Meng Haoran was born in Xiangyang in 689 or 691 BCE. He passed the all-important civil service test at the age of 39, but his brief political career was an abject failure. He spent the rest of his life socializing with his friends and writing poetry about the winsome landscapes of his native Hubei. Today, he is fondly remembered as one of the luminaries of Tang dynasty poetry and his works went on to have a big impact on subsequent poets and landscape painters in China and in Japan.
In his poems, Meng Haoran usually concentrates on the people who inhabit the mountains and rivers rather than describing the landscape itself. His poems are filled with longing for the summits of the mountains—the haunt of unseen sages—however the poet never quite seems to ascend the peaks but rather ends up writing about rice wine and poetry. Below is a characteristic poem addressed to his friend Zhang which veers from the soaring heights of aspiration to the day-to-day beauty of life and finally ends with the comforts of friendship:
To Zhang, Climbing Orchid Mountain on an Autumn Day
The northern mountain is hidden in white cloud,
A happy place for hermits to retire.
So we can meet, I try to climb the heights,
My heart is fading like a goose in flight.
My sorrow’s prompted by the creeping dusk,
But then clear autumn spurs on my desires.
At length we see the villagers return,
They walk the sand and rest at the river crossing.
The trees against the sky are like shepherd’s purse,
An islet by the shore just like the moon.
I hope you have some wine to celebrate,
We’ll spend the autumn festival drunk together.