Poems of Meng Jiao
On a boat, happy encounter, I was given my cousin's letter at parting, saying he has passed exams and is returning to Jiangnan as soon as he can travel
Devotedly, two wandering clouds,
Together for a time, part on their return.
Southern cloud celebrates its return.
Northern cloud joins any flock.
I send my voice on this distant wind.
I'm shouting -- can you hear me?
A doubtful translation in many respects. The title's translation is problematic. 从叔 is "father's younger cousin." I'm pretty sure there is only one cousin here. But there could be two. And the 郊不从行 at the end of the title is [wilds outside of town][not][from/through/since][travel/walk]. So the end of my title is an attempt to make sense of this. The "joins any flock" is likewise an attempt to make sense of three disparate characters. And the final two lines are first person plural in the original. But we don't talk like that in English. It sounds too weird that way. So I cast it in first person singular. Finding other problems in the poem I leave as an exercise for the bilingual reader.
Looking down on these problems conceptually, I can say this. The longer one works with classical Chinese, the more one suspects oneself of anachronistically translating large parts of it. I am often relatively sure that two characters are a bigram. But they aren't in any of my dictionaries. Perhaps the thing they designate is no longer a thing which we even designate, fourteen centuries later. In other words, it's not a definition that we can even have.
In some ways, mankind doesn't change and poems of this unchanging nature are probably correctly translated. But we do change our thinking over the centuries. The forests of Europe are no longer inhabited by demons and the earth now goes round the sun. Different cultures have differing frames of thought even in the present day. So there must be a great deal of classical Chinese which forever remains opaque, not only to the non-Chinese translator, but to even the modern native Chinese scholar. And so we are all left with making what sense we can of minds, in part, unknowably foreign to us.