Memories of Early Winter
The leaves are falling, and the wild geese fly south
Here the water is cold, there is a wind from the north.
I remember my home, but the River Xiang wanders
Walled off by clouds from Chu.
I weep for my village, ’til my tears are spent
I see a sail in the distant sky
Where is the delta ferry? Will somebody tell me?
The lake is quiet, and it’s growing darker and darker.
Death comes to us all. For poet Meng Haoran, it came at the age of 50. For most of his life he lived in the province of Hubei in the ancient Chinese state of Chu. He received his only official posting three years before his death, but left after less than a year.
China’s Superstar Poets
By date of birth, Meng Haoran preceded Li Bai and Du Fu by 10 and 20 years. These three along with Wang Wei made up the pantheon of poetry superstars of the Tang Dynasty.
Until the age of forty, Meng Haoran lived in his native Hubei province. When he finally traveled to the capital to seek fame and fortune, his poetic talents came to the attention of contemporaries. These included the likes Wang Wei, as well as poet and minister Zhang Jiuling. Through their efforts, Meng was recommended directly to Emperor Xuanzong. Unfortunately for Meng, his penchant for wine, a disdain for pomp, and the fact that one of his poems included a sentiment that did not look kindly on official life, gave the emperor pause and he decided Meng would be best left to wander and write.
The River Xiang flows into Lake Dongting from the south, where it joins with the flow of the Yangtze. Beginning in late summer, flood water from the Yangtze also flows into the lake, enlarging the lake’s surface area. Dreamy cloud formations result from the increase in moisture.
At a distance to the south and east of the lake, lies the southern Chinese state of 楚 (Chu). This ancient state encompasses most of present-day Hunan, as well as Hubei, where Meng was born and raised.
Zǎo hán yǒu huái
mù luòyàn nán dù
běifēng jiāngshàng hán
wǒjiā xiāng shuǐ qū
yáo gé chǔ yúnduān
xiāng lèi kè zhōng jǐn
gū fān tiānjì kàn
Míjīn yù yǒu wèn
píng hǎi xī mànmàn