Preface to the Collection of Meiís Poems

Ou-Yang, Shiou (1007 A.D.-1072 A.D.)

    I have heard people say, "Poets seldom become wealthy and powerful. Most of them endure constant hardship." Is this true? Indeed, most popular poems passed down from ancient times were written by destitute scholars. Poets accumulate what they have learned, and love to engage their passions at mountain peaks and watersides when their talents cannot be utilized by their government. As they observe various natural phenomena like insects, fish, grass, trees, wind, clouds, birds and animals, they are often able to reveal their subtleties. When their hearts are burdened with worry and indignation, they present their feelings in the form of satire and lamentation. They are driven to express their sorrows as deeply as an official in exile or a widow mourning her late husband, and to write something that ordinary people could not describe. The more misfortune these poets experience, the more moving their poems become. It is not that poetry makes them poor, but that hardship refines their art.

    My friend, Mei, was offered a position at a young age because of the reputation of his grandfather. Mei failed the advanced level exams many times because the examiners did not write questions that could reveal his talent. He has been bound in this lowly position for more than ten years. Now he is fifty and still accepts working for someone. It is unfortunate that his broad knowledge cannot be utilized in his career. City Wan is his hometown. He learned to write poetry at an early age. When he was still a child, his words astonished his seniors. As he grew up, he studied the Six Bibles on moral virtues. His essays were pure, simple, concise, and did not follow the accepted fashion for pleasing contemporary readers. People in China only knew he was good at writing poetry. At that time any poet who had questions pertaining to writing would certainly consult Mei. Mei loved to vent his sorrows by writing poetry, so most of his writings were in that form. Everyone knew that Mei was a great poet, but no one recommended his talent to the Emperor.

    After Official Wang read Mei's poems, he sighed, "Such great poems have not been written for over 200 years." Although he appreciated Mei's talent very much, he did not recommend Mei to the Emperor. Had the government used Mei's talent, he could have written poems to praise the great work of the emperor of China, and his music could have been performed in a temple. He could have followed great musicians and left an enduring legacy. Because the government still failed to use his talent even when he was old, Mei's poems were confined to the category expressing the worry and sorrow of a destitute wanderer through reflections on insects, fish and other natural phenomena. It was a pity that people loved his poems, but did not know that he endured hardship so long that he became old.

    Mei wrote many poems, but he did not collect them. The son of his wifeís elder brother, Hsieh, worried that Mei's poems might be easily misplaced because there were too many of them. Therefore, he collected Mei's poems that were written from the time he was staying in City L to the time he was working at City Wu. Hsieh organized them into ten chapters. I love to read Mei's poems and wish I could acquire all of them. I was glad that Hsieh was able to put them into book form. Consequently, I wrote a preface to the book and stored it safely away for later use.

    Fifteen years later, Mei died at the capital from a disease. I cried and wrote an epitaph to honor him. I also visited Mei's house to collect his legacy of more than 1,000 poems in manuscript. After combining them with my previous collection, I selected the best 677 poems of Mei's and organized them into fifteen chapters. Because I have discussed Meiís poems in great detail, I will not say more.