Poems of Meng Jiao
Missing Mt. Heng's Recluse
It is said that Zhurong's peak
Holds up Heaven with its soaring power.
Many scriptures speak of its river
Where eighteen holy monks emerged.
Ancient roads with no trace of man.
New red dawns splashing the sharp rocks.
Home at last, you will find this old man,
One by one, leading you up higher.
Where a thousand peaks reflect in Chu's river,
This old sage is hidden here.
He doesn't boil rice. He eats rocks
And grows his eyebrows out like long tresses.
His wine jars in the roots of maples and medlars.
Crane lice falling on his music stand.
Imitate this man who is free of all cares.
I for one have not forgotten him.
While this poem has its difficult bits, all the weird parts are as plain as day. So who is this sage of wine and bird lice? Let's talk a bit about Chinese "mythology." Going back into the Shang dynasty, people and events are what we would call historical. Go back further into the Xia and the emperors Yao and Shun and the personalities become super-human. Go back further into the time of Gonggong and Zhurong and Yandi and the personalities become "gods." I think that these personalities were more or less all historical and the super or mythic qualities simply accrued over time as they became bound up with mythical explanations of where people and grain and fire came from.
Zhurong's peak is Mt. Heng, one of the five sacred mountains. It was one of the pillars of heaven in the mythic age. These mountains of ancient myth each seem to have had rivers encircling them which were also mythic and had powers. I don't know anything about eighteen holy monks emerging anywhere. Monks come later in China and are mostly historical. Boddhidharma is portrayed as a bit superhuman perhaps. And the Daoist Zhang Sanfeng, for whom there is no historical evidence, is certainly superhuman in his stories. But no monks go back even to the Zhou period, to my knowledge. Chinese religion at that time was more like Shintoism in Japan with ancestor worship and spirit offerings.
This wine and lice sage could be a mythical or superhuman personality who was later taken up by Daoism or Buddhism. Or he could have been a historical monk from any dynasty from the Zhou period down to the Tang. Interestingly, he doesn't seem to be named here. I couldn't find any family name characters in the poem indicating his name. But that means basically nothing. Probably some difficult bit in the poem was difficult because it contained his name, only the character for his name is no longer a family name. Or it was a nickname which didn't show up in my dictionaries. So with my limited resources (which are not that limited) our sage is lost in the mists of time. If I had to guess, I would place him reasonably close in time to Meng Jiao because he played the qin. As you go back towards the Zhou, the qin disappears into its parent instrument, the se. But I wouldn't put money on such a weak guess.