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Poetry of Tao Qian

Tao Qian or T’ao Ch’ien or T’ao Yuan-ming (365-427)

Tao Qian ( A Taoist poet) His writing connects deeply to nature, helping to open the way for the later Chinese nature poets. He grew up poor and never had any high posts in the imperial government. Infighting of the Jin Court prompted his resignation, convincing him that life was too short to compromise on his principles; as he put it himself, “I shall not break my back for five bushels of grain” (The term “five bushels of grain” is often used to describe officialdom). He lived as a farmer for the rest of his life.

Unsettled, a bird lost from the flock

Unsettled, a bird lost from the flock
Keeps flying by itself in the dusk.
Back and forth, it has no resting place,
Night after night, more anguished its cries.
Its shrill sound yearns for the pure and distant
Coming from afar, how anxiously it flutters!

It chances to find a pine tree growing all apart;
Folding its wings, it has come home at last.
In the gusty wind there is no dense growth;
This canopy alone does not decay.
Having fround a perch to roost on,
In a thousand years it will not depart.


Success and failure? No known address.

Success and failure? No known address.
This or that goes on, depending on the other.
And who can say
if Milord Shao was happier
ruling a city, or sacked, his excellent melon patch?

Hot, cold, summer, winter: don’t they alternate?
May not a man’s way wander on just so?
Yes, those who “get there” know their opportunities…
have learned to untie the knots of knowledge.
But was it the notable or the notorious that our Sage spoke of?
The latter he called opportunists.
Those who get there, doubtless, know doubt nor care no more. Yet, doubt you not,
nor do dead generals,
who plotted carefully at what seemed opportune,
knowing naught, right or wrong.
If, of a sudden,
you’re offered fine wine,
let the sun sink.
Enjoying it.


Autumn chrysanthemums of Beautiful color.

Autumn chrysanthemums of beautiful color,
With dew in my clothes I pluck these flowers.
I float within wine to forget my sorrow,
To leave far behind thoughts of the world.
Alone, I pour myself a goblet of wine;
When the cup is empty, the pot pours for itself.
As the sun sets, all activities cease;
Homing birds, they hurry to the woods singing.
Haughtily, I whistle below the eastern balcony
I’ve found again the meaning of life.


Returning to Live in the Country (I)

Young, I was always free of common feeling.
It was in my nature to love the hills and mountains.
Mindlessly I was caught in the dust-filled trap.
Waking up, thirty years had gone.
The caged bird wants the old trees and air.
Fish in their pool miss the ancient stream.
I plough the earth at the edge of South Moor.
Keeping life simple, return to my plot and garden.
My place is hardly more than a few fields.
My house has eight or nine small rooms.
Elm-trees and Willows shade the back.
Plum-trees and Peach-trees reach the door.
Misted, misted the distant village.
Drifting, the soft swirls of smoke.
Somewhere a dog barks deep in the winding lanes.
A cockerel crows from the top of the mulberry tree.
No heat and dust behind my closed doors.
My bare rooms are filled with space and silence.
Too long a prisoner, captive in a cage,
Now I can get back again to Nature.


Returning to Live in the Country (II)

I always loved to walk the woods and mountains,
Pleased myself, lost in fields and marshes.
Now I go out with nephews, nieces,
In the wilds, parting hazel branches,
Back and forth through the mounds and hollows,
All around us signs of ancient peoples,
Remnants of their broken hearths and well-heads,
Mulberry and bamboo groves neglected.
Stop and ask the simple woodsman,
“Where have all these people gone now?”
Turning he looks quietly and tells me,
“Nothing’s left of them, they’re finished.”
One world. Though the lives we lead are different,
In courts of power or labouring in the market,
These I know are more than empty words:
Our life’s a play of light and shade,
Returning at last to the Void.


Ninth Day, Ninth Month

Slowly autumn comes to an end.
Painfully cold a dawn wind thicks the dew.
Grass round here will not be green again,
Trees and leaves are already suffering.
The clear air is drained and purified
And the high white sky’s a mystery.
Nothing’s left of the cicada’s sound.
Flying geese break the heavens’ silence.
The Myriad Creatures rise and return.
How can life and death not be hard?
From the beginning all things have to die.
Thinking of it can bruise the heart.
What can I do to lighten my thoughts?
Solace myself drinking the last of this wine.
Who understands the next thousand years?
Let’s just make this morning last forever.


Reading the Classic of Hills and Seas

In the summer: grass and trees have grown.
Over my roof the branches meet.
Birds settle in the leaves.
I enjoy this humble place.
Ploughing’s done, the ground is sown,
Time to sit and read a book.
The narrow deeply-rutted lane
Means my friends forget to call.
Content, I pour the new Spring wine,
Go out and gather food I’ve grown.
A light rain from the East,
Blows in on a pleasant breeze.
I read the story of King Mu,
See pictures of the Hills and Seas.
One glance finds all of heaven and earth.
What pleasures can compare with these?

Tao Qian

Speaking Out and Spoken Word

Poetry of Sun Buer
Poetry of HanShan
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