A poem by Meng Chiao
Translated by David Hinton
Though few of our fellow humans grieve,
the birds and beasts all call out in sorrow,
and however senseless they seem at first,
they've reached into the depths of heaven.
No child means no tears when you sicken,
no father no one to suffer your memories.
Why separate family from everyone else?
To do it, people use the rites like a knife,
so you died alone, buried without mourners,
I kept lament to myself, hid this worry,
and let other hands lift you into the grave.
How can I praise their devotion now, your
sincerity? Lost, lost -- a childless old man
like another feather lost among the molt.
( Note: molt is a clutter of feathers left by birds)
Until the age of forty, Meng Chiao (A.D. 751--814) lived as a poet-recluse associated with Ch'an (Zen) poet-monks in south China. He then embarked on a rather unsuccessful career as a government official. After his retirement, Meng developed an innovative poetry style that made him a consummate poetry master. His is an experimental poetry of virtuosic beauty, a poetry that anticipated landmark developments in the modern Western tradition by a millennium. With the T'ang Dynasty crumbling, Meng's later work employed surrealist and symbolist techniques as it turned to a deep introspection. His late work is singular not only for its bleak introspection and "avant-garde" methods, but also for its dimensions.
I was reading a lot of his “Late Poems” tonight and this poem, steeped in immense sadness , about a loner captured my heart. It also made me think of the fate of millions of refugees severed from their near and dear by the tragedies of our times.