Poems of Meng Jiao
Tears for the destruction of language
Poets' work is proud and aloof.
Plenty of the good ones starve to death.
We share our sadness, share our laughter.
It's a burden. But what can you do?
There's another spirit that deatroys language.
Emotional poems that empty pearl rivers.
One by one, they are embraced by the unthinking
Who fly away over dark eastern seas.
It's a pity a great country's singing should
Float away like the four barbarians' songs.
Often I go out in the midst of crowds to
Study faces and learn what they're saying.
Today our fruits are all dead.
They've all been drowned in Luo River.
Luo's long banks are lined with mourners
Whose sprinkled tears become twin rushing torrents.
What Meng Jiao is specifically mourning here is the history of language (言史) or the continuity of meaning. He in his way, Han Yu and Co. in their way, have spent their lives maintaining the connection of the present with all that has gone before it. But those connections are being broken anyway. The Tang has passed its crest and "all things have become new" but not in the way John meant that. The past is being lost as the present comes to dominate the minds of men.
It happens this way in all cultures. In my short lifetime, dictionaries have gone from prescriptive to descriptive. The former is an effort to maintain the very ties Meng Jiao knew were important. The latter makes the dictionary like one of those trivial tourist museums, preserving what doesn't even remain in language from one printing of the dictionary to the next.
Culture is that human activity which preserves the continuity of significance. When culture wanes, the infinitesimal moving edge of the present moment fills thought with its trivialities. And so the present moment loses all significance.
Here is a simple example. If the participants of Occupy Wall Street had been connected to the significance of the past, which can only exist in language (which is thought), they would have known that the goal was for all of them to be arrested and for none of them to make bail. If they had done this, they would have overwhelmed the system in every city they went to and something would have changed. But being completely naive about the historical development of protest, they simply protested, picked up their Boy Scout "Protest" merit badges, and went home where they could immediately turn their null effort into nostalgic posts on Facebook.
The bit about "a great country's singing" is one more reference to how prevalent the public singing of poetry was in the Tang. Bai Juyi's poems often became massively popular songs.