Poems of Meng Jiao
Mourning Lu Yin
Many poets climb the pure heights where
They starve to death embracing their mountain.
White clouds are already masterless,
Flying away, thoughts carefree.
Sick so long, I'm like a corpse on display,
Cared for by my feeble houseboy.
Rats gnaw at my favorite books and
Every room in the house is a mess.
You came back to a village of the newly dead
And told me I still looked the same.
I was embarassed to be at the end of life
With no one I could cling to.
At the hundred springs, we mourn in vain
As our long sad days flow on.
Chattering and more chattering,
But the moonlight is eternal.
New things replace new things,
But spring eternally brings the flowers.
Winds from the mount of tombs call "Meng Jiao."
Autumn on Song Mountain, we bury Lu Yin.
The dead in Mount Mang's tombs here are
All mourning even as they turn to dust.
This mount of tombs is covered in brambles
But my tears come from suffering.
I can't warm myself at smoky fires
And my strength left me long ago.
From afar, I lift my cup of tears and
Pour them on the pure Luo's banks.
More tears as I lift my heart-broken voice.
Sadness kills long-parted friends.
Wind is howling through the brambles.
Bitter sadness shatters everything.
I don't want to hear such sadness.
Covering my ears, I hear it anyway.
I'm crying too much to sing as I play
And my tears only make me feel worse.
Ah, me, I'm all burned up.
Ah, death, my heart more beaten down.
I float through a glittering dreamworld
Where waves of tears form deep whirlpools.
The flowering wild onions are gone and
The wild yellow sage blooms no more.
I've placed my seal upon the deep forest,
Left my mark upon the mountain roads.
Now my days no longer give me light
And the moss clothes the ground in vain.
Pity an old man without a son
Whose flesh is devoured by ants,
Lying twisted at long-life's end,
Weeping and weeping in the silence.
In the silence, I hear tigers.
No one comes here anymore.
My only family left is my poetry and
I brace my heart against death's return.
With you gone, I have only
My Henan friend, Han Yu, to rely on.
He polishes the heights with the brilliance
Of a thousand works of ancient writings.
This unthinking younger generation
Brings bitterness and boasts we die in vain.
Their fame may profit their descendents
While your fame now merely fades away.
It's so sad, your thousand verses
Vanish like a morning's blossom.
Scattered are the words you suffered for.
My respect for you sighs in vain.
I hear a baby born in a dark alley
But my eyes see you on Lu Mountain.
Starving to death has made you famous,
A hungry fame in a high pure atmosphere.
I'm a stupid old man with a strong old spirit,
Feeling like a sad, sad cloud.
In this sadness, only tears.
Past and present fall like rain.
All my life, I've talked with you.
Now here I am with only these clouds.
Our temples first turned white
Fighting over new ways to write.
At night, we'd walk the moonlit bridge
Or drink ourselves to sleep in a wine shop.
Drunken, weeping in our cups,
Your fame spread across the county.
Mid-poem, we'd gather plum blossoms,
Cutting fragrant flowers in the park.
You were addicted to green vegetable soup
And thought nothing of eating a fatty sheep.
You chanted without wasting a rhyme
And spoke with deep feelings of the past.
Suddenly, old age arrives
And steals our prime of life away.
Good and bad are now beyond us.
Why should we scold the surging waves?
Former worthies cried in their cups
Drinking to escape their weeping hearts.
We later worthies try to hold it in
But sadness comes and it's always deep.
When the young cry in their cups,
It brings on their white hair.
But when the old cry in their cups,
Their rhymes will follow deeper ways.
I send you the words of a drunken poet.
This is no finished public rhyme.
Polished poems shout out loud in vain.
Heaven and Earth have no place for them.
People like us rarely cry together.
It's the others who get together and howl.
I begin to understand how the silly
Birds and beasts make it to Heaven.
Without a son, I'm sick but without tears.
Without a father, I've tried hard not to work.
How about I cut off all relations and
Use courtesy like I would use a knife?
You lie fresh in a lonely grave,
Beyond pity, embracing sweet sadness.
You annoyed those who had to bury you.
Your integrity, how could they praise it?
Sighing here, a son-less old man,
Death would be only shedding my skin.
The sages weep for the virtuous
Whose bones change into the stars,
Whose writings fly up to heaven and
Glimmer among the constellations.
The writings of the ancients are inestimable.
But modern works can also be divine.
Your name is among the banished immortals,
Rising, falling, never will it cease.
There are writings death makes more fragrant.
Without them, life would be decay.
For you, I ring out these good words,
Forever spreading your peaceful quiet work.
This is the last of Meng Jiao's poems in the scrolls. He begins it with two lines, slightly modified from the preceding poem, which is something new for him. White clouds are symbols for those who have freed themselves and go where they will. It sounds like Lu Yin came to see Meng Jiao just after Meng lost his wife and child. The "hundred springs" are often an image of the netherworld. Meng Jiao seems to be writing from the brink of death.
Meng Jiao is outside Luoyang on Mount Mang where there are tombs of kings reaching back through the Han and Qin. Lu Yin must have returned home, died, and been buried on or near Mount Song which is the most important of Daoism's Five Peaks. I wonder how much of all this crying and physical suffering is real and how much of it is literary conceit. Meng Jiao has been too active to have been physically sick for a long time. I suspect his sickness and his suffering refers to how he feels about the world, the decline of culture, the ongoing violence of his times. Our age's mind is consumed by thoughts of sickness and medicine. So there is a danger of anachronistically attributing similar thinking to the past. Meng Jiao has been sick and weepy even as he guides men through the wilderness. I think sick and weepy is a metaphor. One more thing we learn here is that Lu Yin went home and starved himself to death.
This verse gives us personal day-to-day details of Meng Jiao's friend. It's rare we get details like this. Even someone as direct as Meng Jiao never goes into the real details of life. We never will know what he carried with him in the wilderness. Or what was on his writing table and walls. I wish there was a poet who, like Hokusai, would just tell us all the things he sees. We can see here, near the end of Meng Jiao's time on earth, that he is hard-pressed to deal with losing his ten-year-old son. And his wife. He's all alone. His friends, one after another, are dying. Yet there's still a lot of life in this poem.
Meng Jiao has done what he can for Lu Yin. But Lu Yin didn't make it through the years. I can't find him referenced as a poet anywhere. It's kind of a miracle that we have any poems at all from fourteen hundred years ago. Somehow, we have three hundred and eighty one poems of Meng Jiao. And this is the last of them.