Poems of Meng Jiao
Mourning the mountains of ancient Lu
The birds of prey are growing fat.
On Lushan, they have long been starving.
Our heroes feast on sizzling meat.
On Lushan, only bitter grasses.
Those who feast on fame are tyrants.
Feasting on strength, were the peasants of Yao.
Our nobles have their brand new shame.
Lushan has its ancient doom.
Heaven's simplicity first brought peace to all.
But men's cleverness gave birth to discord.
Lushan did not tear itself apart.
In the end, all simplicity was drowned.
Lack of unity has many faults.
In this flood, how can we return?
Struggle for wealth brings on strange seasons.
As disgrace approaches, how strangely it shines.
The great five virtues sit, thin and frail.
All living things fall into this decline.
Because of this, I see Lu's mountains and
It's crippled way that could not endure.
Gentlemen do not cripple themselves.
But in Lushan, there was a reason.
If they had cherished Heaven and Earth's abundance,
All would have shared in Heaven and Earth's life.
Our Heaven and Earth is already greatly crippled.
In Lushan, the Way could not be maintained.
Heaven and Earth's vitality now is not sufficient.
In Lushan, there was even less to eat.
I begin to see how to mend the original pattern.
But in the end, we must have worthy men.
Worthy men often obscure their
Reasons and their vulgar cunning.
Of their slender attainments, they dare not speak.
Their distant charms, up close, are a joke.
All creatures eat what they eat and
All men cherish what they cherish.
Hear the sound of the listless homeless and displaced,
Whose sense of loss o'erwhelms them and then guides them.
That's why in ancient Lushan, everyone
Shared starvation, weakness, and calamity.
On a distant staircase with no beginning,
In their haste, they cannot rise.
Worthy men with their pure appetites --
On cold days, their emptiness congeals.
Blood oaths end in mistakes.
Bright fat soon cooks off.
Those who hastened to Lushan left behind
Signs that they could never depart.
The words of our Lushan eunuchs
Are far from the heart of Yao.
Jackals -- shameful, mad, and snapping --
Sink their teeth into frozen gold.
Then comes the fight for expansion.
Together, they plow the mountain tops.
Night falls and they ignore their chains.
Life ends and they indulge in song.
Good teaching would return to Heaven's way.
But fancy words don't help the people.
Profundities are naturally things
That the common sense cannot reach.
It was writing that was Lushan's merit, bringing
The multitude together through Shao's music.
Shao's pipes were Great Harmony's music.
Lushan did not work in vain.
It was as if he understood eternity,
A century's goodness as if yesterday.
Who can continue to uplift with culture
In this flood of trivialities?
If the court would value what is precious,
Heaven and Earth would be full of the divine.
To carry on is already difficult.
Virtue's symbols meet with indifference.
Fame and position, frivolous and wasteful,
Cause all right voices to withdraw themselves.
Although we could save each other with the rites,
Even such strong loyalties soon fall apart.
How sad for ancient Lushan.
In the end, who can measure him?
Today, wealth is taken for enlightened culture.
But the first empress had an able minister,
Of pure mind, though dimming with the years,
Who spoke of purity holding off old age.
In a distant grave, beyond the shining waters,
I've given up my life of wandering.
I do not have the fame of Lushan
But haven't stooped to earn the world's cheap honors.
With two or three loyal suffering friends,
I gaze out upon the rising danger.
Autumn enters these blue mountain nights
And my eyes rest upon the cinnabar gates.
I'm convinced that I'll be alright from now on.
The summoning of joy is not in vain.
My humble offerings I give to mad and sane alike,
Alert them to the feeling of ten thousand forms.
I'm a sacrificial calf that knows no piety
While Lushan drove his own chariot.
I was scarcely worthy of a wife
But even Lushan ended up homeless.
I offer up the bearing of my own shame.
Relying on his words, who can find a flaw?
I will sing of Lushan's virtue.
Who can reach the shores of his deep sea?
What I leave behind is scarcely weaned,
Even less is it my own flesh and blood.
It's the fruit of my mind's bitter honesty,
Deepest feelings, sweetly overflowing, handed down.
Things already lose their ancient meanings.
Who says only the present is wonderful?
But if worthy men give birth to all living things,
How could my poetry have turned out so well?
Lu was the home of Kongzi, Confucius. It was a vassal state to the Zhou. In the end, it was overwhelmed by the Chu. That's all I know. I can't find any reference to the conditions of Lu that Meng Jiao puts into this poem. It's clear that Meng Jiao is comparing his time in the Tang with those conditions of the Lu. Perhaps, we don't rightly understand how much chaos there was during the mid-Tang. Yao, in the verse, is the ancient pre-Zhou king who became the god of farmers and farming.
And then we fall into some kind of savage satire. No real details are given beyond a sense of great instability shown by the multitudes of the displaced and homeless. A further indication of our ignorance of the conditions of the mid-Tang.
This verse is more ciriticism of "worthy men" and of the politics of Meng Jiao's time. It also culminates by showing that Lushan, in this poem, is not only a place, but also the ideals of Lu's most famous person, Kongzi.
Lushan, in this verse, is directly equated with Kongzi. Confucius idealized the music of the rites and called for them to return to the proper music of Shao. If you consider the poem so far, as a whole, it resonates, not with Meng Jiao's deep Buddhism, but with Daoism at first, and then more and more with Confucianism. It is a very ecumenical plea for culture.
I don't think that most people in our present age can conceive of the vitality and immediacy of Tang's culture. And while it was centered on the literate class, it was felt by the common people. We know that Bai Juyi's poetry, for instance, was known by multitudes. It was quoted and chanted in the street. A famous singing girl upped her price when she could sing his "Pipa Player" by heart in its entirety. Meng Jiao and Bai Juyi were contemporaries. But it seems to me that Meng Jiao was the more sensitive of the two, having lived his life closer to the bone.
In the end, this last verse becomes Meng Jiao's inner comparison of himself with Kongzi. It's as if Meng Jiao is reaching back to the roots of Lushan and merging them with his Buddhism. Or something. I'm not trying to make too much of this. But it seems as if the tradition of Kong Fuzi now resonates with Meng Jiao.