Poems of Meng Jiao
Hoarfrost washes out the water's color
Till Chill Creek seems covered in fine scales.
The fortunate approaches this empty mirror
Which shines upon his suffering, broken self.
Hidden refinement cannot be concealed.
It ever shows its clarity renewed.
Clarity, like a gentleman's conscience,
Has always been a danger to men.
You begin to know your shallow, vulgar heart
As night ends and the edge of morning looms.
This knowing washes, with a single precious tear,
A thousand worldly cares into the distance.
But you learn that if you're mired in the creek,
You can't merge with its source upon the mountain.
On Luoyang's bankside way,
Our Meng clan's home is by this creek.
My boat breaks white ice on its way,
Accompanied by my clear, if husky, voice.
Water clear above and green beneath.
White waves birthing icy floes.
Upon this bright and precious mirror
Heaven illumines all things equally.
Uneasy steps down perilous windings.
Then climbing till I hear a widow's cry.
Slight fragrance given off by melting frost
Congeals upon the vastness of this landscape.
Sitting, idiotic, I stare at everything.
Then walking, idiotic, lose my trail.
On the bank, a boy is cutting brambles
And everything he says is full of sadness.
At dawn I drink a single cup of wine
Then tread the snow along the crystal creek.
Its waves have all been frozen into knives
That cut and kill the wild ducks and the gulls.
Their sheltering wings, all torn and scattered.
Their blood, soaked deep into the mud and sand.
Alone, I stand and wish I could find words
To silently mouth my sadness.
Frozen blood will never give new life.
But giving life is not within our power.
Frozen blood cannot even bring flowers,
Make flowers that would voice a widow's cry.
From Hell, these brambles pierce the villages.
Frozen corpses are no good behind the plow.
Poling the boat, throwing rocks at jewelled stars,
Always following a pulsing firefly.
In this frozen darkness, sadness is complete,
While greedy hunters chant their hidden stench.
Icy teeth grind like gnawing rats and the
Wind's voice is like an ancient bell of war.
This pure sadness, one cannot escape;
It washes over everything you hear.
Jade waves have all rolled away.
Bright streamers fly and float apart.
Descending footsteps slide uncertainly
And rising loneliness breaks my troubled rest.
Howling mouths are smeared with unjust blood.
I look up and ask, "Where will there be peace?"
Winding, never-ending waters,
A white dragon covered in such scales.
Freezing stormwind howling through the offal
As scattered voices hide their bitter grain.
Harsh words are hard to chew but as
They flying go, they seem more true.
Their savage bows may all have broken strings
So they gasp as they struggle with the guests.
The great are stern who stand here.
The small kill and don't return to order.
Bright virtue? What bright virtue?
These mists only grow more dense.
Auspicious weather paints the sun and moon
And azure heights reveal the stars.
Alone I stand, my two feet in the snow,
Lonely, chanting a thousand new woes.
Heaven's flying portent shines in vain.
The constellations dispute in silence.
The sage king, Yao, can't hear you
And Confucious can't hear me either.
Chastening books finally have their day
But ancient justice is too hard to restore.
Because the cold feeds on the dead,
This killing wind never stops.
As for the righteousness of soldiers,
It's the righteousness of a knife's point.
A knife point's righteousness is putrid
And the gentlemen can do nothing about it.
Waves slash their icy swords,
Hacking each other like hated enemies.
Snowy needles enter the fishes' hearts,
Fish hearts bright with sorrow,
Wild like the speech of two liars
Who slice apart each other's reason.
Who can we send into this strange climate,
To enter into this flow of power,
To end this killing for one month of spring,
To block up a hundred distant valleys?
I lift my heart to a new hateless light,
Shining down on our congealed grief.
The creek has long wept over such chill,
Its tears freezing into chimes.
The floating dead bear death's forms,
As driving snow scatters their humanity.
A swords edge can't cut this cold.
A bowstring is hard to play.
One hears of gentlemen at war, but not of
Their eating its wretched remains.
Cut jade hides the rotten corpses and
We mourn their preciousness with tears of sorrow.
Wind on the creek lays down more cold
But the landscape yearns for spring.
Jewels disappear in flowery drops
Like a young dragon shedding its bright scales.
Slow steps down clear windings as
Lost hopes wash the fragrant cliffs.
Leagues of ice are breaking up, given
One dipper of warmth and humanity.
Dews of the spirits wash over each other,
Each thread of moisture striving to be first.
Suddenly, as if the swords are finished,
Rise up the bodies of a hundred battles.
Up until now, all of Meng Jiao's long poems -- the late Mourning the Gorges and the earlier Autumn Mind and Five Gurglings -- have been literary criticism. Poetic criticism. How poems should be written or, in the Gorges, the consequence of writing them otherwise. This poem begins as a winter or late fall verse of the natural world which quickly becomes a kind of Buddhist musing as Meng Jiao journeys upon the empty mirror of these waters. Knowing Meng Jiao, we are being set up for something but are given nothing recognizable as a hint.
So this is a journey to Meng Jiao's family home, which we visited once before when he was tricked into visiting for a surprise banquet. And we travel upon the beautiful waters of river and creek as the ice forms and breaks apart. Then the creek turns to icy knives. The knives kill the water birds. And the birds are men who have soaked the river banks with their blood. A widow cries from both ends of the verse. And a sad boy cuts brambles which are the fuel of the poorest people's fires. It's hard to guess where we are going. And if he can turn this into literary criticism, I'll eat my ... well, something unpleasant. Asparagus, maybe. Or Brussel sprouts. But perhaps this is Meng Jiao's first long work driven by the agenda of Five Gurglings: the present day north joined with the sweetness of the ancient south. So are the corpses recent victims of unstable times within the Tang or are they ancient soldiers of the Warring States? Is this the Luoyang as the Tang's eastern captial or in its earlier incarnation as the Zhou Kingdom's Luoyi?
Well, this clearly isn't another literary critique. His walking, boating journey continues with the waters and the wars, past and present, lapping at his feet.
This verse seems to be something of a political critique. But Meng Jiao is a Beethoven to Bai Juyi's Haydn. The details are lost in the roar of horns and percussion. It is the new lack of peace that Meng Jiao is deploring. But somehow the ancient struggles of the Warring States hover over this poem.
Perhaps Meng Jiao has found a balance between the poet being absent and the poet being too present. I don't think he has been satisfied with the poet's absence since he began to remove him. So now the poet's mind is the stage. The world inspires the players, both realistic ones of the present and ideal ones of the past. Their parts play out and as they fall silent, the poet's mind, with its associations of past and present and immediate experience, spawns the next scene and retires into the shadows as the scene plays out.
The cut jade garments for corpses is a Zhou dynasty fashion. The ruling class was buried in clothes stiched together from smallish squares of flate jade and buried in mounds.
This poem is a kind of symphony. It's like the Pastoral of Beethoven from time to time. Here, the storm recedes and the music lightens again into a major key which we haven't heard since the first verse. But lost hopes return us to a minor key and this crescendos into the vista of a hundred battles' corpses. I think that in this poem, we have our first realization of the ideals in Five Gurglings.