Poems of Meng Jiao
Chang'an Forces One to Travel
For ten days, I've been gone for the same old reason.
Now, every time I comb my hair, dust flies.
I've hardly had a decent drink all month and
Every meal I've had's been pathetic as an old monk's.
All living things have their seasons.
Only I am oblivious to spring.
Who would risk their good name to visit me,
Vying with one another to be my friend?
Sturdy trees provide a peaceful shelter and the
Streams are so quiet there's hardly a flash of ripple.
I begin to understand that the field of competition
Is no place for a gentleman.
A rustic staff cut from light bamboo.
Mountain vegetables over a bracken fire.
An old forgotten song comes back to me.
Here, outside human busyness, the prospect is excellent.
This poem comes from those years in his early forties when Meng Jiao was trying to pass the exams so he could be employed. Chang'an was a city of millions where only those with millions were comfortable, so to speak. Rents were high and it appears Meng Jiao spared himself rent in the summer by sleeping under the sky. He doesn't seem bitter about it though. More introspective than anything else. It's kind of a 我奈何 (What can I do about it?) poem. If this is his experience of homelessness in the Tang, I can vouch for its being much nicer that homelessness is now. Try walking out of town, cooking over a brush fire, and sleeping under a tree. Can you say, "complimentary free night in jail?" Even if you can walk to them, as I could, there is a two week limit on camping in U.S. national forests. Meng Jiao could stay out there all summer and only come back to rent a hovel when the autumn rains began.