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The Most Prominent Poet in the Tang Dynasty: Meng Haoran

Being an artist is innate. It is something you can’t learn. While training to be an artist might teach you the technical skills of composition, it will not give you the soul of an artist. Such a thing is pervasive. It permeates every aspect of the artist’s life. In all they do, despite the success they have in other fields, true artists will always gravitate toward art.

Such is the case with the Meng Haoran 孟浩然 (Mèng Hàorán) (689 – 740 AD), the poet who tried to make it as a civil official, only to found himself going back to the path of an artist.

Meng Haoran 孟浩然 (Mèng Hàorán) (689 – 740 AD), courtesy name Haoran 浩然 (hàorán), also known as Meng Shanren 孟山人 (Mèng Shānrén) is a famous landscape pastoral poet in the Tang Dynasty. However, before becoming a prominent poet, he went as “Meng Shanren” as a civil official.

meng haoran
Image from Internet

Meng Haoran’s Life Experiences

Meng Haoran was born in the year 689 in Xiangyang City. His family is one of the most affluent families in the area. He was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. 

Consequently, this pressured Meng Haoran the pursue a political career. However, he was an artist. Being an artist has been ingrained in every part of his being. In the year 708, when he was 20 years old, Meng Haoran visited Mount Lu Men 鹿门山 (Lù Mén Shān). Eventually, he composed a poem acknowledging the beauty of the mountain. The poem was a staggering success. The poem called Mount Lu Men 题鹿门山 (Tí Lù Mén Shān) was the monolith that marked the unique poetic style of Meng Haoran. 

However, despite being a literary genius, he still opts to take a civil career. That is why he spent his 23-25 traveling along the Yangtze River 长江流域 (Chǎng Jiāng liú yù) to establish a connection with distinguished civil officials. Along his journey, he wanted to visit the late prime Minister Zhang. However, he wanted the visitation to be unique, memorable, and intricate. In his pursuit of inspiration, he climbed the Yueyang Tower 岳阳楼 (Yuèyáng Lóu). That’s when it clicked. He then created a poem called “Look at Dongting Lake to present prime Minister Zhang” 望洞庭湖赠张丞相 (Wàng Dòngtíng Hú zèng Zhāng ChéngXiàng). Unfortunate, his efforts were all in vain, for he never got the chance to meet Prime Minister Zhang. 

From 717 to 726, Meng Haoran traveled the world and met many prominent literary genii in his time. Along his journey, he establishes a good connection with Zhang Shuo 张说 (Zhāng Shuō), Han Sifu 韩思复 (Hán Sīfù), Li Bai 李白 (Lǐ Bái) and others.

In 727, Meng Haoran went to Chang ‘an 长安 (Chǎng ān) to take the imperial examination. The examination will officially put him into a civil position. Unfortunately, he failed. However, he remained in Chang ‘an to write poems and appreciate the scenery. 

Two years later, after spending time in Chang ‘an writing poems, Meng Haoran wanted a change of pace. Hence, he traveled to Xiangyang 襄阳 (Xiāngyáng) and Luoyang 洛阳 (Luò yáng). He also visited Wuyue 吴越 (Wú Yuè) and sailed on Taihu Lake 太湖 (Tài Hú). During this period, he tried to bolster his civil career by visiting prominent officials in the area. Unfortunately, his introduction was always politely declined. 

In the year 734, Meng Haoran went back to Chang ‘an. He still wanted to make it out as a civil official. That is why he took the imperial examination the second time. Regrettably, he failed the second time too. Dismayed, Meng Haoran 孟浩然 (Mèng Hàorán) returned to Xiangyang 襄阳 (Xiāngyáng). 

After the second examination failure, Meng Hoaran merely spends his time writing poems and feasting. When everyone thought that his civil career was over, another beam of hope arrived. In 737, Zhang Jiuling 张九龄 (Zhāng Jiǔlíng), a civil officer in Jingzhou 荆州 (Jīng zhōu), offered to help Meng Haoran to enter politics. However, he refused. It was not long before Meng Haoran went back to his old residence. 

In the year 740, Wang Changling 王昌龄 (Wáng Chānglíng), Meng’s old friend, returned to the north. Along with the travel, they stopped over in Xiangyang. Wang Changling visited Meng Haoran while he was still in town. The two met happily and did a lot of reminiscing. However, during this time, Meng Haoran was not in good health. He has sores on his back. However, it proved to be benign and healed hence after. 

Meng Haoran met his denmise when his life was claimed by palindromia. He got it from too much indulgence in raw food. 

Meng Haoran ’s Works 

Meng Haoran was a prolific landscape poet. He provides incredibly perspective and captures moments that he transposes in his poems. His usual composition is five short poems. He usually makes idyllic gardens and natural soothing melancholic vibe of nature his theme. He tackles the happiness found in seclusion and being one with nature. It is not only cynical but also a self-expression of the poet. 

Among his famous works is Meng Haoran Collection 孟浩然集》 (Mèng Hàorán Jí) “, “Looking at The Dongting Lake to Present the Prime Minister Zhang 《望洞庭湖赠张丞相》 (Wàng Dòngtíng Hú zèng Zhāng ChéngXiàng) “, “Spring dawn”  (Chūn xiǎo), “Su Jiande River” 宿建德江 (Sù Jiàndé Jiāng), “The Song of Night to Lu Gate” 归鹿门歌 (Yè Guī Lù Mén Gē) and other articles.

Meng Haoran’s Mindset and Character

Meng Haoran was born in an affluent family. That fact fueled his ambition to be a civil official and serve the world. He wanted to make the world a better place. His civil heart never left him despite the difficulties, pain, and failure he stumbled upon pursuing this path. 

Meng Haoran was a man of character. He did not disrespect anyone and held anybody in high regard. He is known for not using profanity all his life. 

Meng Haoran was a true artist at heart. He had the soul of an artist that he gravitated towards in the end. 

Explain the Knowledge Points

书香之家(shū xiāng zhī jiā):a scholarly family, a family with profound cultural accumulation and advocating education.

拜访(bài fǎng):visit, call on

For example,

Tā chū shēng zài yī gè shū xiāng zhī jiā。

她  出     生    在 一 个 书     香    之 家。

She was born in a scholarly family.

Zuó tiān wǒ qù bài fǎng le wǒ de zǔ fù mǔ。

昨    天   我  去 拜   访   了 我  的 祖 父 母。

I visited my grandparents yesterday.

Bài fǎng lǎo rén shí yīng gāi dài yī xiē lǐ wù。

拜  访    老   人  时   应   该  带 一 些 礼物。

You should bring some gifts when visiting old people.


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