Poems of Meng Jiao
Escorting Lord Wei Duan to the palace
Eastern Luo, still lightly flooded.
Western capital, fragrant beauties suffice.
I bow to my Great Guest's prestige,
Distinguished Traveler of rare crown and sword.
Who else could be so empty of palace ambition
And still be summoned before the throne?
Let this cramped and dusty minor functionary
In his old age and illness sing for you.
It is useless to consider retirement's price
When suddenly arrive the white-haired years.
We might as well try to patch the wind
As offer up our three hundred verses.
By now we have a pretty clear picture of such a poem's context. White-haired Meng Jiao, here in his fifties, is escorting one of the lords of the realm from somewhere in the south, through the watery wilderness, on his way to the capital, Luoyang. They may be traveling with Wei Duan's retinue. But given Meng Jiao's familiarity with the nobility, these two older men may be traveling alone, shooting duck to eat, rowing when there's too little wind for the sail in their little boat, chanting poetry, and perhaps wishing for something interesting to happen. Life, in any context, becomes a little tame by the time you're white-headed. Some excitement would be welcome. But it rarely, if ever, comes.
Of course, their definition of "exciting" would be more exciting that ours would, generally speaking. One's average, uneventful trip with Meng Jiao, substituting American landscape for Chinese, would be like travelling from Lander, Wyoming to Jackson, on foot, in the autumn, through the Wind River range. We know that some of Meng Jiao's "customers" have complained about the hardships. But most appear to have had a good time. Now consider, that in his time, there was no easier way to get to "Jackson" from "Lander" and you will have some idea of how tame we have become.