Thoughts in the Early Winter 1

Meng, Hao Ran (689 A.D.-740 A.D.)

Leaves fall and wild geese fly south.
The chilly northern wind blows across the river.
My home is at a bend of the Xiang River.
It sits in the remote place where the clouds in Chu rise.
My tears from homesickness were exhausted.
My family must watch the horizon for my return sail.
I am lost and want to ask for the directions to a ferry crossing 2.
But all I can see is the boundless sea at sunset.

1 Meng went to the capital and took the Advanced Exam at the age of forty. He failed the exam, and after he returned home, he became depressed. The next year he traveled to Wu-yue to vent his frustration. This poem was written when he arrived at the lower reaches of the Yangtze River. He was bitter and desolate, and had a dilemma. He wanted to become a hermit, but was unwilling to remove himself from society. His financial worries also motivated him to look for a government position. He was unable to acquire one, but was reluctant to become a hermit. He hesitated at this fork on the road of his life. This was Meng's mental state when he wrote this poem.

2 The chapter titled "Wei-zi" in The Analects of Confucius says, "Chang-ju and Jie-ni plowed together. When Confucius passed by them, he sent one of his disciples, Zi-lu, to ask them for directions. Chang-ju asked, 'Who is the one in charge of your group?'
Zi-lu said, 'Confucius.'
'Is he the Confucius from the State of Lu?'
'He should know the directions.'
Then Zi-lu turned his question to Jie-ni. Jie-ni asked, 'Who are you?'
'Are you a disciple of Confucius?'
Jie-ni said, 'The world is spinning like a whirlpool. Who can change it? I would rather follow recluses than a king looking for recruits.'
Then he returned to planting seeds. Zi-lu went back to tell the story. Confucius said with a soothing sigh, 'One cannot live with raptors and beasts. These two recluses pursue the same goal, virtue, as I do. If virtue prevailed in China, I would not try to seek change.'"
    Meng was tortured by the dilemma between seclusion and achievements. In the last two lines, he seemed to try to solve the problem that he proposes to himself, but he did not find a definite answer.