T'ao Ch'ien

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I beg you listen to this advice —
When you get wine, be sure to drink it.
And human life
how should it not be hard?
From ancient times
there was none but had to die,
Remembering this
scorches my very heart.
What is there I can do
to assuage this mood?
Only enjoy myself
drinking my unstrained wine.
I do not know
about a thousand years,
Rather let me make
this morning last forever.

Tao Yuanming (Chinese: 陶渊明) (365427), also known as T'ao Ch'ien, was a Chinese poet.

Quotes[edit]

  • Slowly, slowly,
    the autumn draws to its close.
    Cruelly cold
    the wind congeals the dew.
    Vines and grasses
    will not be green again—
    The trees in my garden
    are withering forlorn.
    The pure air
    is cleansed of lingering lees
    And mysteriously,
    Heaven's realms are high.

    Nothing is left
    of the spent cicada's song,
    A flock of geese
    goes crying down the sky.
    The myriad transformations
    unravel one another
    And human life
    how should it not be hard?
    From ancient times
    there was none but had to die,
    Remembering this
    scorches my very heart.
    What is there I can do
    to assuage this mood?
    Only enjoy myself
    drinking my unstrained wine.
    I do not know
    about a thousand years,
    Rather let me make
    this morning last forever.
    • Written on the Ninth Day of the Ninth Month of the Year yi-yu (A.D. 409)
    • Translated by William Acker
  • I built my house near where others dwell,
    And yet there is no clamour of carriages and horses.
    You ask of me "How can this be so?"
    "When the heart is far the place of itself is distant."
    I pluck chrysanthemums under the eastern hedge,
    And gaze afar towards the southern mountains.
    The mountain air is fine at evening of the day
    And flying birds return together homewards.
    Within these things there is a hint of Truth,
    But when I start to tell it, I cannot find the words.
    • "Written While Drunk"
    • Anthology of Chinese Literature, Vol. I (1965), p. 184
    • Fifth poem in his series of poems on drinking wine.
  • There were often times
    when we had no wine to drink,
    However, this morning
    we fill the empty beakers.
    Over the new spring wine
    midges hover—
    When will we ever
    taste its like again?
    Tables with funeral meats
    stand piled high before us,
    Old friends and relatives
    come and weep beside us.
    We try to speak
    but cannot utter words,
    We try to see
    but our eyes are dim.
    Once he used to sleep
    within the lofty hall,
    Now he will spend the night
    out on the lonely moor.
    The mountain air is fine at evening of the day
    And flying birds return together homewards.
    Within these things there is a hint of Truth,
    But when I start to tell it, I cannot find the words.
    Leaving the city gate
    we accompanied him thither
    But we were back again
    before midnight had come.
    • "Written in Imitation of an Ancient Bearers' Song"
    • Translated by William Acker; T'ao the hermit: sixty poems (1952), p. 102
  • 白发被双鬓,
    肌肤不复实/虽有五男儿,
    总不好纸笔/阿舒已二八,
    懒惰固无匹/阿宣行治学,
    而不爱文术 /雍端年十三 ,
    不识六与七/通子垂九龄,
    但觅梨与栗/天运够如此,
    且进杯中物
    • White hair covers my temples,
      I am wrinkled and gnarled beyond repair,
      And though I have got five sons,
      They all hate paper and brush.
      A-shu is eighteen:
      For laziness there is none like him.
      A-hsuan does his best,
      But really loathes the Fine Arts.
      Yung and Tuan are thirteen,
      But do not know "six" from "seven."
      T'ung-tzu in his ninth year
      Is only concerned with things to eat.
      If Heaven treats me like this,
      What can I do but fill my cup?
      • "Blaming Sons" (An apology for his own drunkenness, A.D. 406)
      • Shu-hsiang Lü, Yuanchong Xu, Gems of classical Chinese poetry in various English translations (1988), p. 100
    • Variant translations:
      • White hair covers my temples—
        My flesh is no longer firm,
        And though I have five sons
        Not one cares for brush and paper.
        Ah-shu is sixteen years of age;
        For laziness he surely has no equal.
        Ah-hsuan tries his best to learn
        But does not really love the arts.
        Yung and Tuan at thirteen years
        Can hardly distinguish six from seven;
        T'ung-tzu with nine years behind him
        Does nothing but hunt for pears and chestnuts.
        If such was Heaven's decree
        In spite of all that I could do,
        Bring on, bring on
        "the thing within the cup."
        • Translated by William Acker
      • My temples are grey, my muscles no longer full.
        Five sons have I, and none of them likes school.
        Ah-shu is sixteen and as lazy as lazy can be.
        Ah-hsuan is fifteen and no taste for reading has he.
        Thirteen are Yung and Tuan, yet they can't tell six from seven.
        A-tung wants only pears and chestnuts—in two years he'll be eleven.
        Then, come! let me empty this cup, if such be the will of Heaven.
        • Roger Loomis, Donald Clark, Modern English Readings (1942), p. 480
  • 少无适俗韵,性本爱丘山。
    误落尘网中,一去三十年。
    羁鸟恋旧林,池鱼思故渊。
    开荒南野际,守拙归田园。
    方宅十余亩,草屋八九间。
    榆柳荫后椋,桃李罗堂前。
    暧暧远人村,依依墟里烟。
    狗吠深巷中,鸡鸣桑树颠。
    户庭无尘杂,虚室有余闲。
    久在樊笼里,复得返自然。
    • When I was young, I was out of tune with the herd,
      Long I lived checked by the bars of a cage;
      Now I have turned again to Nature and Freedom.
      My only love was for the hills and mountains.
      Unwitting I fell into the Web of World's dust,
      And was not free until my thirtieth year.
      The migrant bird longs for the old wood;
      The fish in the tank thinks of its native pool.
      I had rescued from wildness a patch of the Southern Moor
      And, still rustic, I returned to field and garden.
      My ground covers no more than ten acres;
      My thatched cottage has eight or nine rooms.
      Elms and willows cluster by the eaves;
      Peach trees and plum trees grow before the Hall.
      Hazy, hazy the distant hamlets of men;
      Steady the smoke that hangs over cottage roofs.
      A dog barks somewhere in the deep lanes,
      A cock crows at the top of the mulberry tree.
      At gate and courtyard—no murmur of the World's dust;
      In the empty rooms—leisure and deep stillness.
      Long I lived checked by the bars of a cage;
      Now I have turned again to Nature and Freedom.
      • "Returning to the Fields"
      • Arthur Waley Translations from the Chinese (1941), p. 90
      • Variant translation:
        • Young I was witless in the world's affairs,
          My nature wildness and hills prefers;
          By mishap fallen into mundane snares,
          Once I had left I wasted thirty years.
          Birds in the cage long for their wonted woods,
          Fish in the pool for former rivers yearn.
          I clear the wildness that stretches south,
          Hiding my defects homeward I return.
          Ten acres built with scattered house square,
          Beside the thatched huts eight or nine in all;
          The elms and willows shade the hindmost eaves,
          Distant, distant I gaze at the white clouds:
          With a deep yearning I think of the Sages of Antiquity.

          While peach and pear-trees spread before the hall.
          While smoke form nearby huts hangs in the breeze;
          A dog is barking in the alley deep;
          A cock crows from the chump of mulberry trees.
          Within my courtyard all is clear of dust,
          Where tranquil in my leisure I remain.
          Long have I been imprisoned in the cage;
          Now back to Nature I return again.
        • "Returning to my Farm Young" (translated by Andrew Boyd)
  • I am free from ties and can live a life of retirement.
    When I rise from sleep, I play with books and harp.
    • "Shady, shady the wood in front of the Hall"
    • Translated by Arthur Waley
  • My little children are playing at my side,
    Learning to talk, they babble unformed sounds.
    These things have made me happy again
    And I forget my lost cap of office.
    Distant, distant I gaze at the white clouds:
    With a deep yearning I think of the Sages of Antiquity.
    • "Shady, shady the wood in front of the Hall"
    • Translated by Arthur Waley
  • Let us drink and enjoy together the wine you have brought:
    For my course is set and cannot now be altered.
    • "In the quiet of the morning I heard a knock at my door"
    • Translated by Arthur Waley
  • Heaven and Earth exist for ever:
    Mountains and rivers never change.
    But herbs and trees in perpetual rotation
    Are renovated and withered by the dews and frosts:
    And Man the wise, Man the divine—
    Shall he alone escape this law?
    Fortuitously appearing for a moment in the World
    He suddenly departs, never to return.

    How can he know that the friends he has left
    Are missing him and thinking of him?
    Only the things that he used remain;
    They look upon them and their tears flow.
    Me no magical arts can save,
    Though you may hope for a wizard's aid.
    I beg you listen to this advice—
    When you can get wine, be sure to drink it.
    • Substance, Shadow, and Spirit, "Substance speaks to Shadow" (translated by A. Waley)
    • Quoted in One hundred & seventy Chinese poems (1945), 'Poems By Tao Ch'ien', p. 74
  • I would gladly wander in Paradise,
    But it is far away and there is no road.
    • Substance, Shadow, and Spirit, "Shadow replies"
    • Translated by Arthur Waley
  • While you rested in the shade, I left you a while:
    But till the end we shall be together.
    Our joint existence is impermanent:
    Sadly together we shall slip away.
    That when the body decays Fame should also go
    Is a thought unendurable, burning the heart.
    Let us strive and labour while yet we may
    To do some deed that men will praise.
    • Substance, Shadow, and Spirit, "Shadow replies"
    • Translated by Arthur Waley
  • God can only set in motion:
    He cannot control the things he has made.
    • Substance, Shadow, and Spirit, "Spirit expounds"
    • Translated by Arthur Waley
  • You had better go where Fate leads—
    Drift on the Stream of Infinite Flux,
    Without joy, without fear:
    When you must go—then go.
    • Substance, Shadow, and Spirit, "Spirit expounds"
    • Translated by Arthur Waley
  • Let me then remember, to calm my heart's distress,
    That the Sages of old were often in like case.
    • "Chill and harsh the year draws to its close" (transl. by A. Waley)
  • I do not mind if my cottage is rather small
    At a single glance I survey the whole Universe.
    He will never be happy, whom such pleasures fail to please!
    So long as there's room enough for bed and mat.
    Often and often the neighbours come to see me
    And with brave words discuss the things of old.
    Rare writings we read together and praise:
    Doubtful meanings we examine together and settle.
    • "Moving house" (translated by A. Waley)
  • At a single glance I survey the whole Universe.
    He will never be happy, whom such pleasures fail to please!
    • "Reading the Book of Hills and Seas" (translated by A. Waley)
  • Longingly—I think of my friends,
    But neither boat nor carriage comes.
    • "Flood" (translated by A. Waley)
  • In former days I wanted wine to drink;
    The wine this morning fills the cup in vain.

    I see the spring mead with its floating foam,
    And wonder when to taste of it again.
    The feast before me lavishly is spread,
    My relatives and friends beside me cry.
    I wish to speak but lips can shape no voice,
    I wish to see but light has left my eye.

    I slept of old within the lofty hall,
    Amidst wild weeds to rest I now descend.
    When once I pass beyond the city gate
    I shall return to darkness without end.
    • Second of three poems ("Three Dirges") written by T'ao Ch'ien in 427, the same year he died, when he was 63 years old.
      These were often read as poems written for his own funeral.
    • John Minford, Joseph S. M. Lau Classical Chinese Literature: An Anthology of Translations (2000), p. 513

Quotes about T'ao Ch'ien[edit]

Tao Yuanming statue in his hometown Jiujiang
  • His literary style is spare and limpid, with scarcely a surplus word. His sincerity is true and traditional, his verbalized inspirations supple and relaxed. When one reads his works, the fine character of the poet himself comes to mind. Ordinary men admire his unadorned directness. But such lines of his as "With happy face I pour the spring-brewed wine," and "The sun sets, no clouds are in the sky," are pure and refined in the beauty of their air. These are far from being merely the words of a farmer. He is the father of recluse poetry past and present.
    • Zhong Rong (469-518), The Poets Graded (translated by J. Timothy Wixted).
  • The only poet I am particularly fond of is Tao Yuanming. Although the poems he wrote are not many in number, they are unadorned and yet beautiful, spare and yet ample … Neither Cao Zhi, Liu Zhen, Bao Zhao, Xie Lingyun, Li Bo, nor Du Fu achieves his stature … This is not to say that I only like Tao for his poetry. I am deeply impressed by what he was as a man.
    • Su Dongpo (1037-1101), as quoted in John Minford, Joseph S. M. Lau Classical Chinese Literature: An Anthology of Translations (2000), p. 491. Translation by J. Timothy Wixted.
  • Tao Yuanming represents the most perfectly harmonious and well-rounded character in the entire Chinese literary tradition. There is a simplicity in his life, as well as in his style, which is awe-inspiring and a constant reproach to more brilliant and more sophisticated natures. And he stands, today, as a perfect example of the true lover of life, because in him the rebellion against worldly desires did not lead him to attempt a total escape, but has reached a harmony with the life of the senses.
    • Lin Yutang, in The Importance Of Living (1937), p. 116
  • It is this fundamental love of simplicity that distinguishes T'ao Ch'ien's verses from the works of court poets of his time, who utilized obscure allusions and complicated stylistic devices to fashion verses that appealed only to the highly educated. T'ao Ch'ien, by way of contrast, seldom made any literary allusions whatsoever, and he wrote for the widest possible audience. As a consequence, he was slighted by his era's critics and only fully appreciated by later generations of readers.
    • Frank Northen Magill, in Great lives from history: Ancient and medieval series, Vol. 5 (1988), p. 2071
  • In addition to his importance as a literary model, T'ao Ch'ien is admired for his decision to remain true to himself rather than subordinate his feelings to the demands of conventional life-styles. The writers and intellectuals of his day were, broadly speaking, split into the opposing camps of conformist Confucians and antiauthoritarian Taoists, and when T'ao Ch'ien rejected the former it would have been normal for him to have gravitated to the vagabond life of the latter. He chose, however, to pilot his own idiosyncratic course between these polar opposites, and he suffered much personal hardship in so doing.
    Even more important than his position in literary history or his personal qualities, however, is the candid beauty of his poetry. The freshness of his images, his homespun but Heaven-aspiring morality, and his steadfast love of rural life shine through the deceptively humble words in which they are expressed, and as a consequence he has long been regarded one of China's most accomplished and accessible poets.
    • Frank Northen Magill, Christina J. Moose, Alison Aves, Dictionary of World Biography, Vol. 1 (1998), p. 1110
  • Tao Yuanming's poetry is well-known for the simplicity, truthfulness, elegance and broadness of style. His pastoral poems are more natural, fresh and sincere. This pure poetic style is closely linked with his personal experience. It's true that he lived like a recluse, but he was by no means solemn completely. His pastoral poems always reveal humanity from which we observe that he not only attached great importance to the unity of man and nature, filling his mind and spirit to objects but also plowed him, showing the deepest sympathy to the labor people.
    The style is the man. Tao Yuanming's pastoral poems, which reflect his personality, decide his wording style to be simple, concise, natural and fresh.
    • Zhou Yingli, in Transference of the Optimal Relevance (2011), p. 46

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