To Prime Minister Zhang: Looking at Lake Dongting
In August (the eighth lunar month), the lake is peaceful,
Boundless waters blend with the sky and
Over the Cloud-Dream Marsh a damp mist rises and
The waves are breaking against the walls of Yueyang City.
I wish to cross the lake, but there is no boat
For me to live an easy life, I would disgrace our brilliant master.
I sit watching the angler cast his line,
Envying him for fishing.
Meeting Meng Haoran for the first time
In our last poem, we heard from Meng as he was leaving political life.
Here we meet Meng at the beginning of his political career. He is arriving at Lake Dongting on his way to the city Yueyang where he will meet with minister Zhang Jiuling.
Meng’s stint in politics was brief, beginning at the ripe old age of 39 and ending within a year. Although politics was not his forte, poetry was and Meng managed to make friendships with younger poets such as Wang Wei, Du Fu, and Li Bai. Indeed, the collection of Tang poems has two written by Li Bai addressed to Meng Haoran.
Meng’s poem gives us some insight into why his career was brief.
Lake Dongting (洞庭湖) in northeastern Hunan Province is well-known as a flood plain of the Yangtze River. In August, the lake water and blue sky combine in an airy mist. In the morning and in the evening, the sun shining on the watery crystals hanging in the air presents an other worldly view.
Zhang Jiuling (張丞相) was a minister to Emperor Xuanzong, and himself a noted poet. In line six, Meng explains that living an easy life would bring shame and disgrace on Zhang who is after all a brilliant master 聖明.
Literally the title of the poem is Gazing at Lake Dongting, a gift, 贈, to Prime Minster Zhang, 張丞相. The Pinyin translation reveals the rhyme of the characters (Zèng zhāng chéngxiàng).
Wàng dòngtíng hú zèng zhāng chéngxiàng
bā yuè hú shuǐpíng
hán xū hùn tài qīng
qì zhēng yún mèng zé
bō hàn yuèyáng chéng
yù jì wú zhōují
duān jū chǐ shèngmíng
zuò guān chuídiào zhě
tú yǒu xiàn yú qíng