Poems of Meng Jiao
(Dead apricot buds, cut down by the frost, fallen on the ground cause a sadness for all children who die young this way. So I wrote this poem.)
Frozen hands can't play with beads.
They try. Beads fly away.
Fearful frost can't cut down spring,
Can't sever spring from light of day.
All around, small fallen buds, like
Old-style bright-colored infants' clothes.
There are more than I can gather up.
Dusk falls. Empty sadness returns.
On earth, it's useless to gather up stars.
But on the branches, no buds are seen.
So sad. And a lonely old man.
He's sorrowing for his sonless home.
How could the river ever drown a wild duck?
It's not like he was a nesting crow,
Hapless nestling unable to fly,
Windblown chick, graceful and proud.
Precious children don't return to life.
With death, one can only sadly sigh.
I should probably weep a little
As the spring enters these trees' hearts.
Not a branch now bears a blossom and
Golden buds cover the ground.
Spring can't grow any longer
And this sad frost has come too late.
Most springs would be washed in fragrance.
This day washes my clothes in tears.
My son was born on a moonless night.
As he died, the moon began to shine.
Moon and son, both taken from me.
Son's fate, a fruitage of short time.
Why doesn't it flower here?
Instead I mourn in my old age.
Of their own accord, things turn to dust
Instead of being the fragrance of life's end.
I'd stamp the earth but fear to pain the dust
Or damage the roots of these fragrant trees.
This truth Heaven doesn't know,
How I'm bereft of my posterity.
Branches hang above their thousand dead,
Not one escapes this fragrant fate.
Who says this is the house of the living
When spring's colors remain outside the gate?
Raw, cold frost has killed the spring.
Branches shrink from its fine knife.
Hearts of trees already scattered.
Mountains, in vain, cry out in distress.
The fallen dead lie row on row or
Lie scattered like bright drops of ink.
I realize, between Heaven and Earth,
All living things do not endure.
I weep here for the failing spring
Leaving a few tearstains on the blossoms.
Missing the fragrance, butterflies go mad.
Missing my son, old age becomes feeble.
And without unending strength
My face assumes a rigid form.
But the divine phoenix harbors no resentments
As it kneels at Heaven's gate.
It was here I saw my son's disaster.
Now flowers bloom without much harmony.
Poor old man receives a broken mind,
Eternal night bound with a broken heart.
What can one add to the voice of death?
But one must not accept its thought.
A sick old man without offspring and
All alone still needs to gather firewood.
The frost may have defeated these pink blossoms
But I gather up a dozen or so.
Unevenly, I chant in the gentle wind
Like a fish gasping in the river's shallows.
Congealed tears that do not fade away,
Deep scars that are hard to vanquish,
Are vain remainders of shadows that are past --
No need to resent the world outside my window.
We know a little more about Meng Jiao from this poem. It seems that the child he mourned in a recent poem was a son. This poem suggests that his son drowned in the river at ten years of age. And it gets worse: Meng Jiao was there and could not save him. We know his second wife died soon afterwards, possibly from grief. But the last sixteen human and redemptive lines are so extraordinary that they make me love Meng Jiao more than ever.
This second, very long verse is probably two or more verses. But one of the (many) problems one has with the PRC-published scrolls is their indifference to the structure of the scrolls themselves. They break each four lines of poetry into a four-phrase line: phrase comma phrase period phrase comma phrase period. The absurdity of this staggers the mind. So only in the case of a verse ending in a couplet can one tell it's the end of a verse. This, like the many-to-one mapping of simplified characters, is part of the ongoing destruction by the Chinese of their own past. You can't get from the modern version back to the truth of the original without considerable research.
But I'm not being angry here. Or critical. I'm only saddened. My compassion for their unthinking self-destruction is why I've chosen to publish these poems in simplified instead of traditional characters. Perhaps, reading these (and the Chinese are my second biggest readership), they will realize the value of the history and the culture they possess. Then they will begin to nurture it in its true form and the light will again shine on the grandeur of that culture.
"Mourning the Gorges" (峡哀), the long poem of Meng Jiao's that I translated out of curiousity and which led to my translating all his work, precedes this poem in the scrolls.