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  Mei Yaochen               (Wade-Giles name: Mei Yao-ch'en)

MEI YAOCHEN (1002 1060)

Mei Yaochen was an official scholar of the early Song dynasty whose poems helped initiate a new realism in the poetry of his age. He was a life long friend of the poet Ouyang Xiu, but he never attained the career success of his famous companion. He did not pass the Imperial Examinations until he was forty nine, and his career was marked by assignments in the provinces, alternating with periods in the capital. Twenty eight hundred of his poems survive in an edition that Ouyang Xiu edited. His early poems often are marked by social criticism based on a Neo Confucianism that sought to reform the military and civil services; these poems tended to be written in the "old style" form of verse (gu shi). He was also a distinctly personal poet, who wrote about the loss of his first wife and baby son in 1044 and about the death of a baby daughter a few years later. His poems are colloquial and confessional and strive for a simplicity of speech that suggests meanings beyond the words themselves; as he writes in one poem: "Today as in ancient times/it's hard to write a simple poem."

East Stream

I walk to East Stream to gaze at the water
and a boat late in shoving off as I sit by a lonely isle.
Wild ducks calmly sleeping by the shoreline.
No branch looks ugly when the old tree blooms

Short low rushes as if cut with scissors.
Sand so flat and pebbles smooth and clean as if sieved.
I don't dislike this place and yet I cannot stay.
In thin twilight I return by wagon, my horse exhausted.

        ---Translated by Tony Barnstone and Chou Ping


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