Tao, Yuan-ming 1 (372-427 CE)
My yard is turning into a wilderness. It is time for me to go home to take care of it. I no longer feel upset since I realize that it is not worthwhile to enslave my mind to earn a living. Although I cannot change my past, I can still pursue a new life. Let bygones be bygones! Fortunately, I have not gotten in too deep. I am determined to correct my mistakes in the future.
The canoe glides lightly, driven by easy strokes. The breeze is blowing my clothes. After landing at my home town, I ask a passerby for directions to my home. It is dawn. I hate that the sunlight is not bright enough for me to hurry. Upon seeing my house, I start to run with great joy as if I were bringing back bountiful gifts for my family. The servants welcome me home and my child is waiting at the door. The paths in my garden have become covered with many weeds. However, the pine trees and chrysanthemums still endure. Holding my child’s hand, I enter the house. There is a crock brimming with wine. I pick up a pitcher and a glass, and begin to drink. With tilted head, I study a branch in my yard to amuse myself. By leaning against the southern window, I regain my freedom. Now I finally realize that peace and happiness can also be found in a small place like my room. Over time, I become fascinated with my daily walks in the garden. Although my house has a door, it is often closed. I love to walk with a cane and then take a rest as I please. Oftentimes I crane my neck to enjoy the view. Clouds depart from mountain valleys without a destination. Birds fly back to their nest after an exhausting day. It is getting dark. The sun has almost set, but I still cherish the solitary pine tree 2 and linger, reluctant to leave.
Since returning home, I have stopped socializing altogether. I have no interest in advancing my station and feel no need to flatter and impress others. The only social interaction I enjoy is conversing with my relatives. The joy I derive from my zither and my books eliminates my sorrows. Farmers tell me that spring has arrived and we should cultivate the west field. Sometimes we drive a curtained wagon, and sometimes we paddle a canoe. We might visit a deep canyon or traverse a rugged mountain path. The trees are flourishing luxuriantly and the spring trickles to start a river. I admire how everything adapts to the season so well. This inspires me to think about what I should and should not do with my life.
Let it be. How long can our bodies last in this world? Why don’t we take it easy and let things run their course? Where do we want to go? Why are we so anxious? Wealth and power are not my desire. The heavenly village is beyond my reach 3. I cherish a nice day to travel alone or go to my field with a cane to weed and plant seedlings. Sometimes I go up to the east river bank and shout to release my frustration. Sometimes I look out over the river and improvise poetry. Since natural changes must lead to an end, why should I hesitate to accept my destiny happily?
1 Qian and Yuan-liang were Yuan-ming Tao’s other first names. He was a native of Chai-sang City (present day Jiu-jiang-xian City of Jiangxi Province) in Xun-yang County. His friends gave him a posthumous name, Jing-jie (integrity). His character was noble and unsullied. He did not desire fame or fortune. Once he was appointed to Mayor of Peng-ze City, but he rejected the offer. He said, “I should not bow for five bushels of rice and I will not serve base people in my hometown with eagerness and enthusiasm.” Of all the reclusive pastoral poets, Yuan-ming Tao was the most famous.
2 A pine tree can endure the cold and remain green in winter, so it is used to symbolize those who can endure hardship and stand unyielding in their integrity.
3 The chapter titled “The Heavens and the Earth” in Zhuang-zi says, “Riding that white cloud, they reach the heavenly village.”
Translated by Li-Chung Wang