Monday, March 8, 2010

Impromptu - Meng Chiao

The poets of the Tang Dynasty are often - and rightly - considered to be at the heart of Chinese poetry.  Meng Chiao is part of that group, although his reputation ebbed and waned through subsequent centuries, partly because he wrote about the quotidian: his hard luck life.  Three sons and a wife pre-deceased him and his performance in the exams only qualified him for lowly posts.  Yet, those experiences of loss and poverty also make his poems more powerful.

Several hundred  have survived, and of them, this is by far my favorite.  Notice that he uses "lovely", not "beautiful", and it's significant (to me), because "loveliness" encompasses more than physical beauty, which makes men brain-dead.  "Loveliness" is evident in a word, a touch, a laugh unguarded, and in a sureness that affirms and asserts who she is, gently but clearly.  A woman with that combination is irresistible... and dangerous. Yet, he must advance - regardless of the risk - because the chance for evenings ad infinitum is surely worth it, no?

Keep away from sharp swords, 
Don't go near a lovely woman. 
A sharp sword too close will wound your hand, 
Woman's beauty too close will wound your life. 
The danger of the road is not in the distance, 
Ten yards is far enough to break a wheel. 
The peril of love is not in loving too often,
A single evening can leave its wound in the soul.
 Meng Chiao - 751-814 A.D. (Chinese -Tang Dynasty)

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