Poems of Meng Jiao
Inscribed with Brother Cong on a wall, describing Magic Cliff Mountain Temple
Putting off our worldly minds,
Ascending alone, these mountain feelings,
Wet with dew, cool and fresh,
Saying important things is again simple.
Happy to see summer days arrive,
Changing as we enter the pines,
Listening to each other in a carefree way,
No one minds the rising sough.
Far from study of worldly dogmas,
Still not free of worldly fame,
Laurel branches warn in vain
Two duckweeds from their fruitless way.
I look up with thanks and strike pure notes.
Come, we've time to sing a bit together.
Some people have wrongly thought that each Chinese character is a symbol for a discrete idea. It is more true to say that each is a symbol for a small cloud of ideas. The ideas in this cloud, or set, act on each other to produce a meaning in the context of its use. Meaning varies with context to some extent. Chinese is much more than this, with bigrams and auxilliary characters having distinct meanings. But those things play little part in poetry. Each line of poetry becomes five or seven little clouds of meaning.
Chinese-English dictionaries encourage the idea that these are discrete and not innerly interactive sets of ideas. Combined with a universal tendency to treat languages as having equivalent mappings and the equally common tendency to extend this fallacy into the realm of idiom, these dictionaries all turn into bizarre and fallacious thesauruses.
What remains true, as one translates these lines of character-clouds into English, is that all such translations become reductive. Radically reductive, when you consider that many, many poems have two or more intended meanings. The translator must pick one consistent meaning for the poem. Then she must translate each line into a "line of poetry." Such a line must be self-explanatory even though it comes from a Chinese phrase which could easily be given a medium-size paragraph, at least, of explanation.
The titular temple is on Wutai Mountain, one of Buddhism's four holy peaks, in Shanxi.