Poems of Meng Jiao
Old age approaching and I get all religious,
Teach my wife to read the Yellow Sutra.
That one is famous as a compact jewel,
One page of a thousand shining stars.
Once I read the Nirvana Sutra,
Fine feelings while listening to bugs sing.
Back then I was often fasting and
My mind grasped a myriad mysteries.
Now suddenly I'm back in Chang'an
And working treads everything level.
But get older and things come back to you,
All tidy, snip-snap.
Buddha sweeps the dusty table clean,
Opens the box, is like a lone tower.
Confucian writings make for hard laws.
But monk's sutras surround with fragrance.
When hurried, you are not receptive.
To hear another bell, you have to ring it.
Being good is like burning incense.
Departing from evil, like shedding your skin.
How could it be the ears on my head
Never heard like this before?
Hearing these words, what difficulty is there?
Learning virtue, its value is manifest.
And what of beyond the Middle Kingdom?
Out there's a land called Duckweed Lake.
In Duckweed Land, teachings are different
Because Heaven's voices ring loud and clear.
The place and time are not yet settled.
Heart's fires struggle on and glimmer.
But I will be like everyone else,
Voice silent, form in primal darkness.
There's an image of duckweed gathering on a lake or sea that reoccurs in Tang poetry. Wandering duckweed is their metaphor for wanderers. Duckweed floats on the water, unrooted, drifting as it will. So in this poem, he's mainly all religious, in a wry way, and feeling old (which they all do at the first grey hair). Then in the end, a bit of a pessimist. But just before the end, he asserts the superiority of wanderers and their closeness to Heaven. And rightly so. I myself hold a Duckweed passport.