Poems of Meng Jiao
For a friend returning home after failing his exams
Sun and moon shining together, casting shadows,
And I'm alone, thinking of who I've lost.
Who would think the old immortal king would die
Or that enchanted flowers would not see spring?
The mind -- a wisp or two of cloud.
The body -- trudging mile on mile.
Clouds return to lofty paths.
Bodies wash up on riverbanks.
Rejected, what way will you return to?
Join with Chu and sing of white duckweeds.
A few notes. In line 3, 鶗鴂 is the big hawk-cuckoo which is a symbol for the ancient king of the State of Shu who turned into a cuckoo when he died. (No, really -- he did.) In line 4, 瑶草 are the jade flowers that grow in the land of the immortals. (On Penglai. It's near Japan.) In line 10, we have that exiled king of Chu again, Tang symbol for the decline of empire after An Lushan. And duckweeds are the symbol of wandering without a home. In the second verse, cloud (云) is "mind" because it is parallel in the poem to "body" (身).
I was thinking about Meng Jiao and his mom. And this led me to think of Bai Juyi and the mourning period for his mother's death. And I realized that if you were an imperial employee, you got a three year paid vacation each time a parent died. Bai Juyi's father died before Bai Juyi became an official. But with a little luck, you could get six years off this way. With pay. Bai Juyi spent his three years in rustic comfort, playing at farming, hanging out with the locals, and writing poetry. I'm not mocking or disparaging him in any way. Bai got along well with ordinary people. I'm not sure where this aside is going. Perhaps I'm merely contrasting vacation time in the Tang with that of the vastly superior, post-modern, digitized present.