Poems of Meng Jiao
Accompanying an enlightened monk back to Heaven's Terrace
(Written while guiding a Daoist to Heaven's Terrace)
Heaven's Terrace is the highest mountain,
Rising quietly against the red wall of dawn.
There your eyes find rest and peace,
Swept by the mountain of all useless thought.
There one's nature is refined and purified,
Where streams wash away all worthlessness.
Within these divine borders, all is righteous,
A forest of pines, none but upright.
Against the moon, one sees the mind grow nearer.
Beyond the clouds, the vulgar drifts away.
Mountain beasts guard this abode of immortals
As mountain apes hold up their Buddhist robes.
Leaving self to find myself alone,
I smile at those led by fame and glory.
My final draft here doesn't seem too bad. But it covers up the fact that so much of it is one best guess after another. There's a decent chance that this translation is largely correct. But the process of translation was a constant reminder of the vain pretense of believing one can perceive the nuance -- sometimes, even the substance -- of a thought so distant as the Tang's is to ours.
Mount Tiantai is the home of Tiantai sect of Buddhism, which predates the Tang by about a century. The poem is a paean of praise for the ears of this enlightened Daoist. This may well be an official trip for Meng Jiao, as he doesn't even name the Daoist. Maybe the "enlightened" bit is a case of intentional irony. I think we have to balance the story of how Meng Jiao avoided work for poetry (and with imperial approval) with the fact that he was always guiding people through the wilderness in an often official capacity.