Poems of Meng Jiao
Going with Han Yu and Li Ao to pay our respects to Zhang Ji
Red strings play a farewell.
This single lamp sheds little light.
In our eyes, all colors fade to grey.
Hearts look back, then turn away.
Travelers' journey not quite done.
Life's radiance suddenly fades.
Autumn's lute trees shed their leaves.
It's late October. Young geese fly.
Deep sadness arises from long journey.
The escorts think of previous returnings.
Night gathers like a flock of starving birds.
No hope of morning's gleams' relief.
Horse hooves churn the river shallows.
Geese write their poem against the sky.
I fear that those I love resist the
Independence that would set them free.
This has been an educational poem. The Tang had two excellent poets named Zhang Ji.
One ( 张籍 766-830) lived mainly in Chang'an. He was briefly famous as a poet and then fell from favor. The year Meng Jiao died, 814, Bai Juyi wrote a poem for this Zhang Ji, sympathising with his fate of living, lonely and forgotten, on the bad side of Chang'an. The next year, 815, Han Yu helped this Zhang Ji into an official position.
Then we have Zhang Ji of Hubei ( 张继 712-779) who died when Meng Jiao was about 28. At that time, Meng Jiao was still wandering the west and had not yet met Han Yu. This poem, which reads like a funeral procession and has imagery of looking up out through the door of the tomb at the geese, is the record of a pilgrimage. Clearly, a 28 year-old Meng Jiao and an 11 year-old Han Yu did not bear Zhang Ji Number Two to his grave.
All of which makes this a pretty wonderful poem. It is a convergence of the natural world in autumn, the death and burial of Zhang Ji, and the gathering of friends decades later at his grave, all brought into a single luminescence. As for the later Zhang Ji's name being in the title, I believe this to be a simple and natural error made by the much later scribes in compiling the scrolls. Nothing in this poem, written circa 805, makes sense in terms of the later 张籍.