With a broken-down oven, in a hotel kitchen, on an uninhabited island
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for Meng Chiao (751–814)
“All has come to nothing,” he writes.
In old age his clothes are tattered and thin,
His hut without a door; sick,
He suffers bad dreams.
I turn to the biography section
To make sense of his bitterness and failure.
“A poet suffers making poems —
better to waste your efforts trying to fly.”
Incompetent at a minor government post,
He lost his job and lived off friends and patrons.
His whole life he was poor and failed to gain
A reputation for his poetry.
“My whole life, a spirit of useless squawking . . .”
His poetry made people sad
And was often dismissed and went unread.
I spent most of this morning’s drizzle and cold
Reading eleven of his poems,
Then sadly flipped through the pages
To another century.
Robert P. Cooke