Meng Jiao: Failing the Imperial Examination (From Chinese)

Meng Jiao had one of the most chronically sad lives a man of his privileged station could have, short of something like living in a warzone. He failed the examinations repeatedly (though he passed on the fourth attempt), lost his wife, had all of his sons die young, spent his life in embarrassingly low posts, and died completely unhappy. If you gave his life story to a fictional character, people would call it implausibly tragic. It shaped him, however, into something new as a poet, thanks in no small part to the tutelage of the sympathetic Han Yu who, though quite an asshole in some ways, was willing to push the envelope of language. He wrote things unlike anything anyone else had done. Many of his contemporaries found his deliberate harshness and turns of language to be rather weird. (Hell, I find him weird sometimes, and occasionally downright incomprehensible.) 

Failing the Imperial Examination
By Meng Jiao
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

It's hard for a dawn moon to keep up its light  
 Hard on a sorrowing man are the things he feels
Who said that all things flourish come the spring?  
 Could he not see the frost upon the leaves? 
The lordly eagle — his potency lost — falls ill   
 The little wren gets borrowed plumes to fly
Rejected once — and rejected once again  
 The things I feel: like stab-wounds from a knife

The Original:



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