Mr. Five-Willow-Trees

Tao, Yuan-ming [ 陶淵明 ]     (365-427 CE)

    We did not know where he came from. We did not know his name. There were five willow trees beside his house, so we called him Mr. Five-willow-trees. He was quiet and did not speak much. He did not envy those with fame or wealth. He loved to study, but he hated to go into details. When he had an epiphany from reading a book, he often forgot to eat his regular meals. He loved wine, but he was poor, so he could not drink frequently. His relatives and friends understood his condition; sometimes they would prepare wine and invite him to drink. Once he started drinking, he would consume all the wine he could, looking forward to becoming drunk. After he was drunk, he would leave as the whim struck him. He never allowed considerations of etiquette or tradition to change his mind. The walls in his house were worn down and could not shelter him from wind or sun. His rough clothes were darned and patched. In his kitchen the bamboo bowl 1 and the gourd ladle 2 were usually empty. However, he was quite content with what he had. He often wrote essays to amuse himself. The essays showed his moral philosophy, but he did not care about success. He lived this way all his life.

    Hermit Lou Qian said, "Do not worry about poverty; do not rush to pursue power and wealth." Does his description apply to Mr. Five-willow-trees? Given that he drank wine and spoke poetry to fulfill his ideals, shall we consider Mr. Five-willow-trees a follower of Emperor Wu-huai-shi? Shall we consider him a follower of Emperor Ge-tian-shi 3?


1 A bamboo bowl was a small container to hold cooked rice.

2 A gourd ladle was a gourd cut in half used for drinking water.

3 Wu-huai-shi and Ge-tian-shi were ancient emperors of China. Their leadership was based on their service rather than conquest or social structure. For example, they taught people to farm, prevent floods, and use herbs as medicine. Therefore, their people could fully enjoy nature and life.