Wednesday, October 15, 2008


Once More Fields and Gardens

Edwin Way Teale, A Walk Through the Year (October 15, first and last paragraphs):
It is curious how close we feel to someone—even someone we have never met, even someone who lived in a remote period in the past and in a far-distant country—when we find that he, too, experienced the same outlook, the same feelings we have known.


T'ao Ch'ien—so far way, so long ago—knew the same attitudes, the same emotions that have been mine. And in this poem of his, "Once More Fields and Gardens," he set them down on paper half a thousand years before I was born.
A while ago I printed two translations of the poem Teale is referring to, one by Arthur Waley, the other by A.S. Kline. From the lines he quotes, it's clear that Teale knew the poem from the rather free translation by Florence Wheelock Ayscough and Amy Lowell:
Even as a young man
I was out of tune with ordinary pleasures.
It was my nature to love the rooted hills,
The high hills which look upon the four edges of Heaven.
What folly to spend one's life like a dropped leaf
Snared under the dust of streets,
But for thirteen years it was so I lived.

The caged bird longs for the fluttering of high leaves.
The fish in the garden pool languishes for the whirled water
Of meeting streams.
So I desired to clear and seed a patch of the wild Southern moor.
And always a countryman at heart,
I have come back to the square enclosures of my fields
And to my walled garden with its quiet paths.

Mine is a little property of ten mou or so,
A thatched house of eight or nine rooms.
On the North side, the eaves are overhung
With the thick leaves of elm-trees,
And willow-trees break the strong force of the wind.
On the South, in front of the great hall,
Peach-trees and plum-trees spread a net of branches
Before the distant view.

The village is hazy, hazy,
And mist sucks over the open moor.
A dog barks in the sunken lane which runs through the village.
A cock crows, perched on a clipped mulberry.

There is no dust or clatter
In the courtyard before my house.
My private rooms are quiet,
And calm with the leisure of moonlight through an open door.
For a long time I lived in a cage;
Now I have returned.
For one must return
To fulfil one's nature.
Yunte Huang, in Transpacific Displacement (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002), p. 99, n. 7, gives a "character-by-character literal translation" of the opening lines from the poem:
I recently read another translation of T'ao Ch'ien's poem by David Hinton, Mountain Home: The Wilderness Poetry of Ancient China (2002; rpt. New York: New Directions, 2005):
Nothing like all the others, even as a child,
rooted in such love for hills and mountains,

I stumbled into their net of dust, that one
departure a blunder lasting thirteen years.

But a tethered bird longs for its old forest,
and a pond fish its deep waters—so now,

my southern outlands cleared, I nurture
simplicity among these fields and gardens,

home again. I've got nearly two acres here,
and four or five rooms in this thatch hut,

elms and willows shading the eaves in back,
and in front, peach and plum spread wide.

Villages lost across mist-and-haze distances,
kitchen smoke drifting wide-open country,

dogs bark deep among back roads out here,
and roosters crow from mulberry treetops.

No confusion within these gates, no dust,
my empty home harbors idleness to spare.

Back again: after so long caged in that trap,
I've returned to occurrence coming of itself.

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