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Imitating the Poetry of Ancient Style

Tao, Yuan-ming (365-427 CE)


Early in the morning I prepare for my carriage
And set out for Wu-zhong City.
What is the purpose of my journey?
It is neither for business nor for war.
I admire Chou Tian 1, a hero and man of integrity,
And plan to pay homage to his hometown.
Tian died a long time ago,
But people in his hometown still emulate his noble character and exemplary conduct.
He enjoyed a good reputation while he was alive.
His fame would pass down to endless generations after his death.
He did not follow people in a rat race
Whose prosperity is limited to their lifetime.


I encounter seasonal rain in March.
Dormant animals are awakened by thunder from the east.
Plants flourish and spread about.
Swallows come fluttering their wings like butterflies.
They enter my thatched hut in pairs
And return to their old nests.
Since we parted last year,
My garden has grown wild.
I resolve to live at home in seclusion.
How about you? 2


From the top of a hundred-foot tower
One has a view of the distance in all directions.
It is a home to which clouds return at sunset.
It is also a hall in which birds gather at dawn.
All the nearby mountains and rivers are in my view.
The plain is boundless.
Many generals in history fervently contested this battlefield.
Once they died,
They all returned to the graveyard on Mang Mountain 3.
People fell pine and cypress trees around the tombs
Which are exposed high and low.
Some crumbling tombs are left neglected.
Where are their wandering spirits?
While they are alive,
They compete to pursue rank and wealth.
After death they are pitiful and lamentable.


A gentleman lives in the east.
His clothes are often shabby.
He frequently eats nine meals a month 4.
He has worn the same hat for ten years.
He works harder than anybody else,
But he remains high-spirited.
Longing to meet him 5,
I cross mountains and rivers in the morning.
Pine trees line the path that leads to his home.
Clouds nestle close to his eaves 6.
He understands why I visit him,
So he plays some lute music for me.
The title of the first melody is “Farewell to the Crane” 7.
The title of the last melody is “The Lonely Female Phoenix” 8.
I wish to live with him until midwinter arrives 9.


In my youth I had lofty aspirations.
I often traveled alone carrying my sword.
I went on a long journey from Zhang-yi City to the State of You-zhou 10.
I ate wild beans on Shou-yang Mountain when I was hungry 11.
I drank the flowing water in the Yi River when I was thirsty 12.
I failed to meet a congenial friend,
But I found two ancient tall tombs along the roadside
Inscribed with the names of Bo-ya Yu 13 and Zhou Zhuang 14.
I did not need continue my journey to seek further for friends
Because I would not find another man with the same ideal as mine.


People planted mulberry trees 15 by the Yangtze River
And expected to gather mulberries in three years 16.
When its branches started to flourish,
The river suddenly changed its course 17.
All the trees fell.
Their roots and trunks were carried to the sea.
Now silkworms will not have mulberry leaves to eat this spring,
How can we make our winter clothing? 18
People should accept the consequences
If they failed to plant trees on a hill 19.


1 The essay "The Biography of Chou Tian", in the volume titled "The History of the Kingdom of Wei", in The History of the Three Kingdoms says, "Zi-tai was Chou Tian's alternate first name. He was a native of Wu-zhong City in Beiping County. In 190, troops in Eastern China established Shao Yuan as their leader to attack Zhuo Dong who kidnapped Emperor Xian-di and took him to Chang-an City. Yu Liu, Mayor of You-zhou City, who was loyal to the emperor sent twenty-two year old Chou Tian to secretly visit Emperor Xian-di. The emperor wanted to make Tian a general, but the latter declined the offer because Tian thought he should not have accepted the honor when the emperor sought refuge. The emperor's court praised Tian's noble character. On his way back, he learned that Yu Liu was killed by Zan Gong-sun. Tian went to Liu's tomb to mourn him. Zan Gong-sun arrested Tian and asked him, "Why did you cry at Liu's tomb? Why did you try to report your mission to Liu instead of me?" Tian replied, "As the Han dynasty declines, warlords try to declare themselves emperor. Only Yu Liu was loyal to the emperor. You might not like to see my report, so I did not send it to you." Zan Gong-sun did not dare to kill Tian because the former did not want to lose popular support. Later, Tian was released. After Tian returned home, he told his family and friends, "We should not cooperate with corrupt officials before the emperor’s disgrace is avenged." Then he went to Xu-wu Mountain and chose a flat and secluded place to build his home. He worked as a farmer to provide for his parents. Many of his friends followed him. Within a few years, more than five thousand families lived near him.

2 This line implies that other recluses might live in seclusion for a short while and then accept corrupt jobs.

3 Mang Mountain is located north of present day Lo-yang City in Henan Province. Most of the mausoleum of emperors and officials during the Jin dynasty were on this mountain.

4 The essay "Integrity", chapter 4, in Shuo-yuan (Art of Speech) says, "Zi-si lived in the State of Wei and wore clothes made of old cotton. He did not have a coat. He ate nine meals in twenty days."

5 Dong-po Su (1037-1101) pointed out that here "him" refers to Tao's ideal self. Thus, "Tao longed to meet him" means "Tao aspired to pursue his goal with perseverance".

6 The title of the following video is "Asking White Clouds":

7 Dictionary of the Fields of Transportation, Clothing, Music, biology, and Others written by Bao Cui (ca. 290), the crown prince's teacher during the Jin dynasty, says, "'Farewell to the Crane' was written by Mu-zi Yu of the Shang dynasty (ca. 1600-ca.1046 BCE). Yu had been married to his wife for five years without children. His father and brothers tried to find him another wife. After his wife heard this, she rose at midnight and cried sadly. After Mu-zhi heard his wife cry, he picked up his lute and improvised a sad melody. The later generations found his music score and named the melody 'Farewell to the Crane'."

8 The full name of this melody is "The Female Phoenix Is Lonely After Her Partner Leaves Her". Miscellaneous Remarks at the Western Capital says, "When An-shi Qing was fifteen, he became Emperor Cheng-di's assistant. Qing mastered playing lute music such as 'The Female Phoenix Is Lonely After Her Partner Leaves Her'."

9 In midwinter, all plants die except for pine and cypress trees. Thus, the severe weather of midwinter is a test that distinguishes strong plants from weak ones.

10 The State of You-zhou included present day Liaoning Province and the northern part of Hebei Province.

11 Bo-yi and Shu-qi, two sons of King Gu-zhu-jun, were sufficiently humble and friendly to yield kinship to each other. They tried to persuade Wu-wang (ca. 1087-ca. 1043 BCE), the founding emperor of the Zhou dynasty, not to attack Emperor Zhou-wang (ca. 1105-ca. 1046 BCE), a tyrant and the last emperor of the Shang dynasty. After the Shang dynasty ended, they refused to work for the Zhou dynasty. Consequently, they lived in seclusion on Shou-yang Mountain, south of present day Yong-ji-xian City in Shanxi Province. They ate only wild beans. Later, they died from hunger. See the essay "The Biography of Bo-yi" in Chinese History.

12 In order to repay the provisions given by Dan, the crown prince of the State of Yan, Ke Jing planned to assassinate the tyrant of the State of Qin. Before Jing left, Dan held a farewell party for him by the Yi River. Ke Jing sang, "The wind is soughing and the Yi River is cold./ Once the brave man leaves, he will not return." Later, he failed to assassinate the King of Qin and was killed by the latter. See the essay, "Dan, the Crown Prince of Yan, Was Held Hostage by the King of Qin", in the chapter entitled "The Third Strategy of the State of Yan", in Strategies During the Warring States Period.

13 Zi-qi Zhong was able to appreciate Ya Bos talent while listening to him play the zither. When Ya Bo thought of Tai-shan Mountain, Zi-qi would tell him, "Great! The mountain is as imposing as Tai-shan Mountain.” When Ya Bo thought of a river, Zi-qi would tell him, "Great! The music reminds me of the flow of a mighty river." After Zi-qi Zhong died, Bo destroyed his zither and no longer played it because Ya Bo thought there was no one who could appreciate his musical talent. See The Spring and Autumn Annuals by Bu-wei Lü (ca. 290-ca. 235 BCE).

14 Zhou Zhuang (ca. 369-ca. 286 BCE) was a friend of Shi Hui (ca. 390-ca. 317 BCE). Zhuang often debated with Hui. The essay "Wu-gui Xu" in Zhuang-zi says, "When Zhou Zhuang visited the tomb of Shi Hui, Zhuang said, 'My opponent for debate died a long time ago. I can no longer find an opponent for debate and a friend for passionate discussion.'"

15 This line refers to the fact that Yuan-di founded the Eastern Jin dynasty and established Jian-kang City (present day Nanjing City) by the Yangtze River as its capital. "Mulberry trees" represent the Jin dynasty. The preface to Xian Fu's poem "The Mulberry Tree" says, "When Wu-di was the General of Zhong-lei, who later became the founding emperor of the Jin dynasty, he planted a mulberry tree in his garden. Up to now the tree has flourished for more than thirty years."

16 This line means that people hoped the Eastern Jin dynasty would regain the glory of the Western Jin dynasty in a short length of time.

17 This line refers to the fact that Yu Liu usurped the emperorship of the Jin dynasty.

18 These two lines say that the people had no way to make a living when the government became corrupt.
    The title of the following video is "Spring Silkworms":

19 In Yuan-ming Tao's opinion, the demise of the Jin dynasty was because of its failure to promote virtue. The failure weakened the foundation of the Jin dynasty.