Poems of Meng Jiao
Mother crow does not fly far.
Her filial sons first learn to return.
But me, why am I alone,
All year long my heart unfilial?
Rivers, seas, I love their vastness.
Great waves give me faith in the future.
Along the way, I eat by the roadside
In the worn-out clothes I brought from home.
My kind of sword won't cut a thing.
Away from home, it's hard to write with strength.
I'm like a houseboy on a long journey,
Ordered about regardless of right and wrong.
It's in the nature of distractions to end,
For worries to pile up, for minds to be profound.
I'm starting to think it's time to move on.
Even in summer, the days don't last long.
I think this poem inspired Bai Juyi's "Gentle Crow Nightly Wails." That poem is an expansion of this poem's first verse in too many ways to be coincidence.
The problem with translating Chinese is that the more you learn, the more you know you did wrong. I was reading about the Spring and Autumn period to learn more about Chu. And a character I've run across in these poems, 伯, has a meaning not in my dictionaries. It's one of two characters used for "hegemon," a title of someone put over all the bigger kingdoms of the time who was responsible for fighting off the barbarians.
I could go back and retranslate those poems. But that isn't really viable. Chinese is like a black hole; you'd get sucked in over the event horizon. No matter how many things you know you did wrong, there are more things you got wrong that you'll never know about. The goal is to move the translating of Chinese forward, not to get stuck in an endless loop. Let me give you an example.
There's a poem by Wang Wei that's in the greatest hits scroll, "Three Hundred Poems of the Tang." It's called 鹿寨. Eight lines long. All the big name translators of the last two hundred years have translated it. In line 7 there's a verbal pun relating to an imperial command. And it's matched in line 8 by an appropriate bigram. The idea in this parallel construction is, in fact, the point of the poem. And not one of our famous translators noticed this. (I leave the details as an exercise for the reader. I haven't published this poem anywhere. So go for it. Be famous.) Now here's my point. By noticing this parallelism, I have moved the translating of classical Chinese forward. This is all we're really able to do. Break a little new ground while avoiding the black hole.