Poems of Meng Jiao
Failed Exams, Heading Southeast
Yue wind, clearing the southeast.
Chu sun, bright on Xiaoxiang's river.
I try to go where the phoenix went,
Still trying to fill Qu Yuan's shoes.
I cry and the water flowers cry with me.
Moon on the lake urges me to end it all.
Disappointment is now my permanent mask.
But I'm more afraid of taking life lightly.
When I hear the mourning of the gibbons,
One shouts and a thousand sadly join in.
Chu again. You can translate yue4 (越) and chu3 (楚) in other ways. But Ling Jun (灵均) is the pen name of the Chu poet Qu Yuan. So we know what Meng Jiao is up to here. And he reveals to us that he really is interested in his young friend Han Yu's ideas about 古文, or "old writing." I'm guessing Meng Jiao's approach is not Han Yu's. But he's serious about emulating a Chu poet, who drowned himself in the Miluo River by Lake Dongting. Xiaoxiang is kind of a literary label for the rivers and lakes of this region, a symbol of exile and injustice and everything else one can pile in from the story of Chu.
If Meng Jiao actually is in the Southeast as he writes this -- but there's no reason to think he isn't hanging out in Chang'an after his yearly failed exam -- he's probably at the very site of Qu Yuan's final protest against corruption. In any case, he's there in spirit, weeping nostalgical-historical tears.
Oh, and it's not a phoenix. It's a luan. Which is a mythical bird which, like the peng, has no English name. It's much smaller than the peng and less imperial than the phoenix, if that helps.