Poems of Mi Fu
Fewer Words on Magnolia Blossoms (2)
(On unrolling a calligraphy scroll)
I've always had my full reward -
On paper, my snakes and dragons fall in rows.
Riches and honor?
At my age, who can worry about favor and disgrace?
Who speaks of feelings?
It's just that, in our prime, we had our costume and our work.
If we returned to our deserted north side of the river,
Another work and costume would serve that emperor.
One wonders if there was a much larger series of poems with this title. We have seen that poets did not distinguish between titles, brief descriptive notes, and prologues. And, among poets, reuse of titles is common and often indicates a reworking of a former poet's poem. Here we have one poet reworking his own title, which could also be translated "Reducing Characters Wasted on Magnolia Blossoms."
In the first verse, "dragons and snakes" (龙蛇) means a powerful expression of calligraphy. In the second verse, the final two lines could have a simpler translation. But they also have this deeper meaning. Yang (阳) can be the sun or light or the Daoist male principle. But it is also the south side of a hill, the north side of a river. The Song had to abandon the north side of the river to the Jin. And the final line indicates that work and costume are exaggerated in the Jin, "letters of jade, clothes of rosy clouds." In Mi Fu's mind, the Jin were aping the Chinese, without understanding the elegance beneath the forms.