T’ao Ch’ien

When you’ve just come of age, reading these poems seems like gnawing on withered wood. But reading them after long experience in the world, it seems the decisions of your life were all made in ignorance.  

T'ao Ch'ien
T’ao Ch’ien (365-427), originally named Yuan-ming (Bright and Clear), changed his personal name to Ch’ien (“sunken” or “hidden”) in response to the fall of the Eastern Chin (or Tsin) dynasty, under which he had served in several official capacities. Complicating the issue was the fact that he had also served the general who was the eventual usurper of the Chin throne. Known traditionally as a nature-loving, quietistic Taoist, a hermit farmer who was a lover of little children and of large quantities of wine, the actual man was a complex and very modern one, a great poet whose ethical standards were as high as his artistic ones. He was influenced by the poetry of Juan Chi and by the works of the Taoist relativistic philosopher-sage and humorist Chuang Tzu to write poems that expressed his own strengths and weaknesses honestly, giving him a solid stance from which to criticize his times. After his death he was without a doubt the most quoted and alluded to of all traditional poets, for at least a thousand years. One of Li Po’s best loved quatrains uses a line from an official biography of T’ao Ch’ien as its third line, a wonderful joke that certainly set those who were prepared to discover it to gales of laughter, while leaving many a pretentious poetaster at a lose to understand. China’s greatest poet? Surely I jest? Well, Li Po, Tu Fu, and Su Shih all acknowledge him as there master/teacher. Who are we, after all, to argue that?

About T'ao Ch'ien - David Hinton
</br>T’ao Ch’ien (365-427 C.E.) stands at the head of the great Chinese poetic tradition like a revered grandfather: profoundly wise, self-possessed, quiet, comforting. T’ao was the first writer to make a poetry of his natural voice and immediate experience, thereby creating the personal lyricism which distinguishes ancient Chinese poetry and makes it seem so contemporary.

T’ao gained quasi-mythic status for his commitment to life as a recluse-farmer, despite poverty and hardship, and his poetry mirrors that life. Its unassuming surface reveals a rich philosophical depth. Virtually all major Chinese poets recognized in T’ao a depth and clarity of wisdom that seemed beyond them, a wisdom which also made him a figure honored in the Ch’an (Zen) Buddhist tradition. Huang T’ing-chien, the Sung Dynasty poet, said of T’ao: “When you’ve just come of age, reading these poems seems like gnawing on withered wood. But reading them after long experience in the world, it seems the decisions of your life were all made in ignorance.”

WAYs: “Returning Home to My Fields and Gardens” >>>


I could’t want another life. This is my
true calling, working fields and mulberries

with my own two hands. I’ve never failed it,
and still, against hunger and cold, there’s

only hull and chaff I’m not asking for more
than a full stomach. All I want is enough

common rice, heavy clothes for winter and
open-weaves for the summer heat-nothing

more. But I haven’t even managed that. O,
it can leave you stricken so with grief.

And character is fate. If you’re simple-
minded in life, its ways elude you. That’s

how it is. Nothing can change it. But then,
I’ll delight in even a single cup of wine.

David Hinton

Return to My Country Home – #3

The weeds flourish but not the bean sprouts.
Morning, I get up to weed the fields.
I return, shouldering the moon and my hoe.
On narrow paths through thick grass and brush.
evening dew soaks my clothes,
but wet clothes don’t bother me
so long as I follow my heart.

Tony Barnstone and Chou Ping


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?
Mayn’t 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,
and knew naught, right or wrong.
If, of a sudden, you’re offered fine wine,
let the sun sink. Enjoy it.

J.P. Seaton


I Stop Drinking

My home is where the town stops.
Carefree and alone, I stop then walk
then stop and sit in the shade of tall trees.
My path stops within my brushwood gate.
The best taste is to stopper my mouth with garden vegetables.
My greatest joy stops with my youngest son.
All my life I have not stopped drinking.
I’m never happy when I stop.
If I stop at night I cannot sleep well;
if I stop in the morning, I cannot get up.
Every day I tried to stop drinking,
but my energy flow stopped and became disordered.
I only knew that abstinence stops pleasure
>without knowing that to stop has benefits.
Now I truly realize how good it is to stop drinking,
and am really going to stop this morning.
I will stop from now on,
till I reach the Isle of Immortals where the sun stops
till my old face stops and a clear face returns.
I won’t be satisfied till I’ve stopped for ten thousand years


Drinking Alone

When It Rains Day After Day
All creatures start and end in death.
Since ancient times this has been true.
It’s said there were immortals like Song and Qiao,
but where are they now?
An old man gives me a present of wine
and says drink will make me live forever.
A few sips and one hundred emotions recede.
More cups and I forget the heavens.
Have the heavens really dissolved in this?
Let me be as natural as nature, and nature as natural as me
The cranes in clouds have amazing wings;
in a flash they touch the universe’s eight corners.
Since I embraced my own true nature
I have worked for forty years
and long ago transformed my body,
but my mind still exists, and what else is there to say?

Tony Barnstone


Reading the Classic of Mountains and Seas

It’s early summer. Everything’s lush.
Our house set deep among broad trees,
birds delight in taking refuge here.
I too love this little place. And now
the plowing and planting are finished,
I can return to my books again and read.
>Our meager lane nowhere near well-worn
roads, most old friends turn back. Here,
I ladle out spring Wine with pleasure,
and pick vegetables out in the garden.
And coming in from the east, thin rain
arrives on a lovely breeze. My eyes
Wander Tales of Emperor Mu, float along
on Mountains and Seas pictures …
Look around. All time and space within sight-
if not here, where will joy come?

David Hinton

After the Ancients

Spring’s second moon brings timely rain;
thunder rumbles in the East.
Insects stir from secret places.
Grasses, trees and brush spread green.
Wings! Wings everywhere! The new come swallows,
pairs and pairs, within my home
find last year’s nest still here,
and come, together, to rest, again.

Since you and I were parted, I have
watched the garden gate pile up in leaves.
My heart’s no rolling stone.
And yours?
Do you love me still?

J.P. Seaton

Moving house

Once upon a time: I wanted to go live in South Village,
not because of some augery, it was just that I’d heard
good simple men lived there, folks I’d have
been happy to spend time with, mornings and evenings.
Many years, that was what I wanted; now,
today, it’s what, hereafter, I shall be known for!
Well, a simple man’s house doesn’t have to be big,
All I’ll need is a bed, and a mat on a floor is a bed.
Then my neighbors will come visiting, and
we’ll talk, we can argue, happy, over other times,
We’ll read scarce bits of honest histories, enjoying them, together.
We’ll settle all the old world’s questions, together.

J.P. Seaton


Drinking Wine #2

The Way`s been in ruins a thousand
years. People all hoard their hearts

away: so busy scrambling for esteemed
position, they’d never touch wine.

But whatever makes living precious
occurs in this one life, and this

life never lasts. It’s startling,
sudden as lightning. These hundred

years offer all abundance: Take it!
What more could you make of yourself ?

David Hinton

Drinking Wine #3

I live in town without all that racket
horses and carts stir up, and you wonder

how that could be. Wherever the mind
dwells apart is itself a distant place.

Picking chrysanthemums at my east fence,
far off; I see South Mountain: mountain

air lovely at dusk, birds in Bight
returning home. All this means something

something absolute. Whenever I start
explaining it, I’ve forgotten the words.

David Hinton


Drinking Wine #5

I built my hut in the midst men,
Yet hear no clamor of horse and carriage.
You ask how it can be like this?
With the mind detached, place becomes remote.
Plucking chrysanthemums by the eastern hedge,
From afar I catch sight of the southern mountain.
The mountain air becomes alive at sunset.
As flying birds return together in flocks.
In these these things there is true meaning.
I’d like to explain. but have forgotten the words.

Wendy Swartz


Drinking Wine #7

Fall chrysanthemums have beautiful colors:
dew still on them, I pick the blossoms,
float them on this foregetmenot
it makes me fccl farther than ever from the world.
Though I’m alone as I pour my wine,
when the cup’s empty, somehow the jar tips itself.
The sun has set, all moving things stilled;
homing birds hurry to the woods, singing,
and I whistle jauntily by the eastern caves—
another day I get to live this life.

Burton Watson


Drinking Wine #9

Early this morning I heard someone knock,
and rushed to the door with my clothes upside down.
I called out, “Who’s there?”
A kindhearted old farmer
bringing me a pot of wine from far away.
He thought I was not moving with the times.
“To stand under thatched eaves in rags-
that is not the high branch where you should nest.
All the world is moving in the same direction.
Please go with the muddy flow.”
I was deeply touched by the villager’s words,
but by nature I’m in harmony with no one.
Though it’s true I can learn to turn my wagon around,
won’t I be lost if I act against my nature?
Let’s just enjoy this wine.
My wagon will not turn around!

Tony Barnstone


Drinking Wine #17

The orchid, hidden, growing, in the court
swallowed in weeds waits wind,
clear wind, pure wind, stripping, burning, bends them low,
and the orchid’s seen, above the weedy artemisia.
Aimless motion, the old path lost…
If I could keep the way, and bear the truth
I might get through.
When I awake, I’ll memorize returning.
When the birds are all gone, a good bow’s wasted .

J.P. Seaton


Returning to the Fields and Gardens (II)

I plant beans below the southern hill:
there grasses flourish and bean sprouts are sparse
At dawn, I get up, clear out a growth of weeds,
then go back, leading the moon, a hoe over my shoulder

Now the path is narrow, grasses and bushes are high
Evening dew moistens my clothes;
but so what if my clothes are wet?
I choose not to avoid anything that comes

Arthur Sze


The Unmoving Client

The clouds have gathered, and gathered,
and the rain falls and falls,
The eight ply of the heavens
are all folded into one mess,
And the wide, flat road stretches out.
I stop in my room toward the East, quiet, quiet,
I pat my new cask of wine.
My friends are estranged, or far distant,
I bow my head and stand still.

Rain, rain, and the clouds have gathered,
The eight ply of the heavens are darkness,
The flat land is turned into river.
“Wine, wine, here is wine!”
I drink by my eastern window.
I think of talking and man,
And no boat, no carriage, approaches.

The trees in my east-looking garden
are bursting out with new twigs,
They try to stir new affection,
And men say the sun and moon keep on moving
because they can’t End a soft Seat.
The birds flutter to rest in my tree,
‘ and I think I have heard them saying,

It is not that there are no other men
But we like this fellow the best,
But however we long to speak
He can not know of our sorrow.

Ezra Pound


My Home Here

My home here
Beyond ways
And why not
Earth centers
‘Mums pluck East
South lifts eyes
Sunset peaks
Birds wheel past
Here’s meaning
No word makes

Cid Corman

Begging Food

The pangs of hunger drove me from my home;
with no idea of where to go
I travelled on for miles
until I reached a village,
knocked on the nearest door,
blurted out some clumsy words.

The owner understood my need
his warmth dispelled my shame
that I’d come empty-handed.

We played and sang till sunset,
the wine-cups often tilted,
with the pleasure of new-found friends
we chanted and composed verses.

I remember the story of the washerwoman. *
Ashamed that I lack the skills of general Han,
how can I show my gratitude?
I can only repay him in the world to come.

Mike Farm

The Shih Ching , usually translated as either The Book of Songs or the Classic of Poetry, is the first great collection of Chinese poetry. Tradition says that it was edited into its present form by the Sage of Sages, Confucius himself. In fact the book was assembled before, during, and after the life of Confucius. Its more than three hundred poems include fragments of works as old as the Shang Dynasty (traditional; dates 1766-1154 BCE) as well as “contemporary” poems from the Chou feudal states written or spoken by both aristocratic court figures and just plain “folks”. A great deal has been said about the origin of many, if not the majority of the poems as oral “folk” art, but it is clear from the artistry of the written language in which they have been handed down that, like the scribes who improved upon the originally oral poetry attributed to “Homer” in the West to create the Iliad and the Odyssey, the people who converted Chou folk songs and court verses into poetry in written Chinese characters clearly thought of themselves as (and were) artists. So the characters used to render simple and direct lyrical utterances of the illiterate peasant folk often honor them with carefully chosen written vocabulary: the heart and soul of folk art remains clearly present, but literary subtleties are introduced. The scribes who created the Shih Ching were poets, not tape recorders. They chose the best of what existed, and they honored it with their own art.

In its present form, the Shih Ching consists of three major sections, the Kuo Feng, or Odes of the States, comprising 160 of the 300 are generally but not always folk songs. The Ya (Elegant Verses) subdivided with no obvious criteria into greater and lesser, include poems 161-265, and the Sung or Temple Odes high ritual songs and bits of dynastic myth, include poems 266-305. The present selection is comes, all but a single longer poem on drinking and its positive and negative consequences from the “Lesser Elegants”, all come from the Kuo Feng Sections.

Knowledge of the Shih Ching poems was a necessity of diplomatic practice around the time of Confucius, when it was a common practice to deliver or at least support the delivery of diplomatic messages among the feudal domains (the “States or Guo of the Guo Feng) by oral presentation of relevant lines from the Classic. From the Han on many of the poems where imbued with very specific allegorical interpretations, but it is clear that later poets, who memorized the book word for word, used it as allusive material in their own poems at least as often for its plain “folk” messages as for its orthodoxly approved allegorical ones.