Meng Haoran and Wang Wei were 8 century landscape poets who shared a deep friendship. Meng was older by a decade, but Wang Wei was the more successful of the two. The two met in Chang’an, the capital, where Meng had come to take the Imperial Examination. Failing to pass, Meng sadly returned to Xiangyang in modern Hubei province. He was visited here by other famous poets like Li Bai.
Quietly, quietly I am waitingFarewell to Wang Wei, Meng Haoran
Each and every day, now returning to my empty self
Seeking fragrant herbs
Sadly parting my dear friend
But who shall help me on the way?
Bosom companions are all too rare
I shall be lonely
When I close my garden gate
Jíjí jìng hé dàiLiúbié wángwéi,
Zhāozhāo kōngzì guī
Yù xún fāng cǎo qù
Xī yǔ gùrén wéi
Dāng lù shuí xiāng jiǎ
Zhīyīn shì suǒ xī
Zhī yīng shǒu suǒ mò
Hái yǎn gùyuán fēi
At the time they met (728), Wang Wei held the position of Assistant Censor in Chang’an, and so, was responsible for the good conduct of Tang officials. It was in this position that Wang recommended his good friend to the emperor. Some sources relate that Meng appeared and recited his poetry, but unwisely chose to combine the words “untalented” and “wise lord,” offending the emperor and resulting in his quick departure. The poet Li Bai also references Meng’s “youthful indiscretion”. (See A Gift to Meng Haoran). Other sources simply say that Meng failed to pass the Imperial Examination (jinshi, 進士 ), or was too old, being almost 40, at the time.
Notes on Translation
Cháo, 朝, which is repeated in the second line, means day. Its repetition gives us the meaning “day by day”. Cháo has a secondary meaning “Royal Court,” which gives support for the conclusion that Meng had gotten in “hot water” with the emperor. The characters kōngzì guī, 空自歸, means “returning to my empty self.” In Buddhism and Taoism, emptiness is the opposite of fullness, meaning that each life is empty without the other. Kōngzì is also a homophone for Confucius (孔子Kǒngzǐ), who like Meng failed to get an official position.
The word Zhīyīn, 知音, translated as “bosom friend” comes from the legendary friendship of Yu Boya and Zhong Ziqi ( Spring and Autumn Period, 770 to 476 BC). This story took place in the State of Chu, the historical name for the province where Meng was born .