Friday, June 29, 2012



Wei Yingwu (737–792), East of the Town, tr. Witter Bynner:
From office confinement all year long,
I have come out of town to be free this morning
Where willows harmonize the wind
And green hills lighten the cares of the world.
I lean by a tree and rest myself
Or wander up and down a stream.
...Mists have wet the fragrant meadows;
A spring dove calls from some hidden place.
...With quiet surroundings, the mind is at peace,
But beset with affairs, it grows restless again...
Here I shall finally build me a cabin,
As T'ao Ch'ien built one long ago.
T'ao Ch'ien (362-427), also known as Tao Yuan-ming, described himself thus in a short third-person autobiography (tr. David Hinton):
No one knows where he came from. His given and literary names are also a mystery. But we know there were five willows growing beside his house, which is why he used the name Master Five-Willows. At peace in idleness, rarely speaking, he had no longing for fame or fortune. He loved to read books, and yet never puzzled over their profound insights. But whenever he came upon some realization, he was so pleased that he forgot to eat.

He was a wine-lover by nature, but couldn't afford it very often. Everyone knew this, so when they had wine, they'd call him over. And when he drank, it was always bottoms-up. He'd be drunk in no time; then he'd go back home, alone and with no regrets over where things were going.

In the loneliness of his meager wall, there was little shelter from wind and sun. His short coat was patched and sewn. And made from gourd and split bamboo, his cup and bowl were often empty. But he kept writing poems to amuse himself, and they show something of who he was. He went on like this, forgetting all gain and loss, until he came naturally to his end.
For some poems by T'ao Ch'ien (Tao Yuan-ming) see:

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