Poems of Meng Jiao
Wishing Minister Lu Long Life
The emperor remained very concerned
But he deeply entrusted you with your province.
Constantly, the winds blew us your praises
As your swarm of swords opened the frozen way.
Formerly, you smiled at momentous tasks.
Now new voices praise what you have commanded.
Everyone speaks of your vast talent,
Here proclaimed from Heaven's roofbeams.
The river geese would be ashamed if their
Offspring could not soar through cliffs of cloud
And only hesitated in this mortal world,
Their tiny feathers without radiance.
This is clearly an official poem commanded by the emperor in praise of the same Minister Lu who was officially praised in the last poem. All of which makes me wish I could identify this Lu. The praise appears to be for the same event in both poems.
The final verse seems to be imperial permission for Lu to openly enjoy his accomplishments. But, like the rest of the poem, the language is -- how shall I put this -- high-level official Chinese where everything is an allusion rather than a direct reference. So in a sense, almost every line of translation feels like a wild-assed guess. Taken as a whole, the lines hold together. So the guesses may be decent ones.
This kind of lack-of-confidence is a familiar feeling in translating 1400-year-old Chinese. Often something is clearly a bigram. But said bigram is in none of the dictionaries. Allusions are made to histories and mythologies now lost. It goes on and on. What I refuse to do is to take refuge in a "literal" translation. You can always fumble five or seven characters together into a sentence that conveys their "sense" while leaving the actual making-of-sense to the reader. This hardly seems fair. How many Chinese dictionaries does the average reader have? Probably, fewer than I do. So I make the best sense of everything I can. That I may (often?) be wrong doesn't really bother me. I've at least given the next serious translators something to build on which is meaningful and internally consistent.