Poems of Meng Jiao
Tomb-Sweeping Day in Jiyuan
Wind-blown nests, graceful. A springful of crows.
Childless old people sigh at the sky.
Can't find a willow bow or arrows of rushes.
Fragrant pink blossoms overwhelm distant greens.
Pretty women spoiling their children today.
Men all talking about spring coming late.
Bees and the butterflies come out to dance
On all the discarded bowls of offering rice.
One day of spring outings comes back every year.
Other days, none of these feet tread fragrant dust,
Where starving children and horses are fed sweepings
And evenings are watered a little in creeks.
Musing in the quiet by a moss-covered well,
Pulley rope breaks without warning.
Drunkards all lean on the new green of spring.
Sick old men hide alone from fall's paleness.
Chang'an's falling blossoms are blown to the skies.
South wind comes to bow before the three palaces.
Pity that even spring pays respect to our court.
Only I chant alone by Wei River.
At Fangkou, mid flowers, a hand pulls me back.
Just for me, midday sun leaves its red glare.
A pity we linger under absolute rule,
Holding up Heaven and Earth, doubting our wish to fly.
The honey-bees prioritize pointless disputes,
Bark themselves hoarse in a flower-filled world.
Every storage jar in your houses should be full now
So you can brag about your pretty cages this winter.
To me, this is another poem where Meng Jiao's empathy takes him further than Bai Juyi's sympathy. If this were a Bai Juyi poem, the starving children and hungry horses would get more than two lines. They would be personified and individualized. And we would have a fine and moving sentimental poem. I don't mean that in a perjorative way. Sentimental is fine. Laurence Sterne did wonders with it and so did Bai Juyi. But here we go from the objects of sentimentality to the poet himself, old (in his own mind) and drunk by a well. Then we are given the sense that even nature upholds the conservative court. And then back to the poet by Wei River (and the sweetness of the old south, Five-Gurglings-wise) where the hand of the world-as-it-is pulls even him back into things-as-they-are. Only in the last four lines does he cut loose in a Bai Juyi way on the comfortable drones of his society. But let's remember that Meng Jiao precedes Bai Juyi. So it may be that Bai cuts loose on the rich and comfortable in so many poems because of the model left him by Meng Jiao.