Poems of Meng Jiao
Sent to Mingzhou's Minister Li
Ever since Master Ji's return
China's troubles fall like rain.
Confucian values are all displaced and
Many virtuous men are sent to war.
Nesting birds live in fear of the archers.
Deer are terrified at every sound.
Twisted swords only fear the scabbard
And greedy bows are unconcerned with merit.
One begins to see how easy it will be --
Action must decline before the massive herd.
Waves of cranes always begin by resting.
Fish move only at the last moment.
Take steps to guard the banks of the Ming.
Then laugh, rushing like Taihang's clouds.
This old poet is as yet unknown to you,
As virtuous youth crowd in to see you.
If I may say one more thing --
Bear always in mind the ancient ways.
I have no idea who Master Ji is. Or Ji's master. I don't know who came back. So the following interpretation could easily be wrong. But I think this poem comes from the time of the An Lushan rebellion.
General An Lushan (who was Central Asian and not Chinese) revolted after gaining power through Emperor Xuanzong's favorite concubine, Yang Guifei. So there's the revolt, then Xuanzong flees, army threatens mutiny, Yang Guifei is strangled, emperor abdicates, and his son becomes Emperor Suzong.
And Suzong is on the ropes. Some generals are loyal to him. Some go over to An Lushan. And on top of this, the five powerful district commanders who command the bulk of the emperor's armies all think this would be a good time for a power play if they can get away with it.
So here's a possible scenario for this poem. The Mingzhou commander is loyal, for now, to Suzong. Suzong needs him to first, hold the river, and then second, attack. But Suzong needs to be diplomatic and either sends this message as a poem by Meng Jiao or buffers his imperial edict with a poem. Why Meng Jiao? Possibly, someone knows that Li in Mingzhou likes Meng Jiao's poetry. Meng Jiao has never met Li, apparently. But he composes this official poem as best he can. You can tell he's soft-pedalling it like crazy.
The "ancient ways" at the end of the poem are probably Sunzi's Art of War, the 36 Strategems, and the other classics of war from the Warring States period.