Poems of Meng Jiao
(Written as an old-style lyric poem of various complaints.)
I reflect upon people's inability to be melancholy.
I, myself, am not quite up to the task.
Most people cannot make their own clothes, either,
And this simple craft is unlikely to return.
The positive is as fragile as two flower stems.
The negative is scattered everywhere you look.
Fallen flowers do remain beneath their trees.
But this does not fill the wanderer with hope.
New peach blossoms in early morning are like
Homeless women with their faces freshly done.
New peach blossoms in evening's twilight are like
Homeless women with their makeup all undone.
Trees blossom identically each of their hundred years.
People can't even keep the same face.
We send flowers to a funeral where people are sad;
But the flowers couldn't care less.
A poor woman's mirror is never bright.
Flowers scarcely blossom in the cold.
Dark anxieties lead to empty imaginings.
Short threads never make long seams.
Turbid rivers cannot shine.
Nonconformists cannot follow.
Turbid rivers have many flitting reflections.
Nonconformists follow many strange paths.
Grasp this -- and live a tenuous life.
Fail -- and have ten thousand deep regrets.
A few remarks. The note at the beginning might also mean " Written after reading an old-style lyric poem of various complaints." As for the poem itself, again Meng Jiao finds his own way of saying everything that could be said in the "usual" way. In fact, he says everything in his own way, no matter what. So translating him is not an easy task. Part of the difficulty could be the historic and ill-conceived common collapse of disparate traditional characters onto a single simplified character, combined with the abandonment of obscure or seldom-used characters. I am mystified by this every time I encounter it and am not happy with Mao Zedong's treatment of classical Chinese culture. It's part of that thirty percent he got wrong.
For instance, 织 nowadays means only "to knit" or "to weave." But at the end of line 19 it is clearly a noun. It would be nice to know for certain which noun. But line 19 is full of even more joy for the translator: [dark, dim][crickets, anxious][have, there are][empty, void][to knit or weave]. Hmmm. "Dim crickets have empty looms?" "The darkly anxious do not knit?" You can see what I made of this opacity. And the rest of the poem was scarcely more transparent. Except for when its lines appeared to have fallen out of the sky and onto the page, as in "Short threads never make long seams." A platitude for comic effect? A veiled reference to the quality of someone's writing?
In the end, though. it seems like the poem of a happy realist. A 我奈何 poem. I picture Meng Jiao smiling as he writes this. And it's not an evil smile. It's the smile of someone who knows whose chains he is jerking. And some of those people are his friends and appreciate his poetry.