Drinking Wine 1

Tao, Yuan-ming (365-427 CE)


    After the autumnal equinox, night is longer than day. I live freely and leisurely, but lack amusement. If I have wine, I drink every night. I drink alone and become intoxicated quickly. Once drunk I will improvise a few lines to amuse myself. Over time my poems accumulate without order or organization. I ask my friends to write them down merely for entertainment.


An anxious bird loses its flock
And still flies alone at sunset.
It flies back and forth without resting.
It cries sadly every night.
Its desperate shrill expresses its desire for a serene and secluded place.
It goes and returns, reluctant to leave.
Since finding a lone pine tree,
It has folded its wings and perched on it,
Ending its long journey.
The north wind kills all the trees except this evergreen.
The bird is glad that it has found a shelter.
It will not leave its refuge for a thousand years.


I built my cottage among the habitations of men,
But there is no clamor of carts and horses.
One may wonder how this can be so.
Being mesmerized by nature, I cannot hear.
After gathering chrysanthemums by the eastern bamboo fence,
I leisurely gaze upon distant Lu mountain.
The mountain clouds are beautiful at sunset.
Flying birds return to their nests.
There is a profound meaning in this poem.
I wish I could express it more clearly.


There are a thousand deeds and manners.
It is difficult to distinguish right from wrong 2.
Improper metaphors and comparisons confuse people 3.
People echo praise or blame.
These phenomena often occur during a dynastic change.
Sages still strive to distinguish right from wrong.
Regarding their contemporary corruptions as a monstrous absurdity,
They follow the Sunshine on Shang Mountain 4 to live in seclusion.


The chrysanthemums are beautiful in autumn.
I gather their blossoms wet with dew.
I put some blossoms in the wine 5
Which allows me to forget sorrow
And distance myself from worldly affairs.
After finishing one cup of wine,
I pour myself another.
All creatures rest at sunset.
Birds chirp as they return to the woods.
I sing loudly and proudly at my east window
To celebrate the regaining of my life, which I almost lost.


A green pine tree grows in the eastern park.
Abundant weeds conceal its grand appearance.
After frost kills all other plants,
The pine tree stands majestically to present its tall branches.
When placed among other trees, the pine tree goes unnoticed.
Only while it stands alone may one consider it special.
I hang my wine jug on its cold branch.
Why should I look afar to seek another place?
Human life is like a dream.
Why should I entrap myself in worldly cares?


Hearing someone knock at my door in the early morning.
I hurriedly go to open it.
I wonder who he is.
It is an old farmer with good intention.
Suspecting that I am at odds with the times,
He brings me a jug of wine from a distance
And offers me his advice.
He says, "Being dressed in rags under the thatched eaves
Is not sufficient for living nobly in seclusion.
Everyone drifts with the tide.
You should wallow in the mire with the crowds. 6 "
I appreciate his concern,
But my nature does not allow me to keep in step with the times.
Although officialdom is truly good to learn,
I do not want to live against my principles.
Let us enjoy the wine together.
My resolution will not change.


Hui Yan 7 was honored as a benevolent man.
He was poor and died young 8.
Qi-qi Rong 9 understood the true meaning of life,
But he suffered hunger all his life.
Although both of them left behind good reputations,
They lived in poverty all their lives.
Reputation does not matter after one's death.
It is better to live in accord with one's wishes.
One strives to take care of one's precious body,
But this treasure will be gone after one's death.
Burial in the nude may not be a bad choice 10
If one understands its advantages 11.


In my youth I was not interested in social activities.
All I was interested in was the Six Classics.
Studying them year after year,
I gradually approach forty without accomplishing anything.
In order to maintain integrity,
I often suffer cold and hunger.
Chilly autumn wind blows into my thatched cottage.
Weeds have taken over my front yard.
Dressed in thin clothing,
I endure many chilly long nights.
I feel as though the rooster is reluctant to crow.
Gong Liu 12 is not here,
Who can appreciate my ideals?


Orchids grow in my front yard.
They wait for a cool breeze to spread their fragrance.
When a cool breeze suddenly arrives,
It distinguishes orchids from weeds.
I get lost after walking on and on 13.
Letting things follow their own course may be the right choice.
It is the time to discard the bow when there are no more birds 14.
I have come to understand that I should return home.


Xiong Yang 15 took to drink,
But poverty prevented him from acquiring wine.
Sometimes his disciples brought him wine
To ask him to solve their problems.
When wine came, Xiong Yang would quickly drink it.
He would answer most questions.
However, when people asked him about aggression 16.
He would remain silent.
A gentleman would not speak carelessly.


If one does not know how to earn a living,
One will suffer cold and hunger frequently.
After suffering hunger for a long time,
I gave up farming to work for the government.
Stars moved and seasons changed.
I have worked for the government for thirteen years.
However, I have been ashamed of my corrupt position
Since I became a government official at the age of twenty-eight.
In order to maintain integrity,
I resolve to resign my position and return home.
There are many roads for which one may choose.
This was the reason that Zhu Yang stopped at a crossroad 17.
Though I do not have the gold to entertain with a banquet 18,
At least I can enjoy some cheap wine.


Since Emperors Fu-xi and Shen-nong 19 died long ago,
The moral degeneration of the world has been getting worse.
Confucius strove to turn the tide and revive the tradition of integrity.
Although times of peace never occurred during his era,
The Book of Rites and The Book of Classical Music
Assumed a new aspect after his revision.
After Confucius died,
His lessons of wisdom could no longer be heard between the Zhu River and the Si River.
Since then, Confucianism was lost.
Under the tyranny of the Qin dynasty,
The Book of Poetry And The Book of Records were burned 20.
Scholars during the Han dynasty strove to preserve the legacy of classics.
However, after the Han dynasty ended,
People studied Taoism and discarded the six classics of Confucianism.
They were busy running about pursuing fame and wealth.
No one cared about the principles of virtue anymore.
If I fail to enjoy my wine,
I will be unworthy of my head scarf 21.
It is a pity that my writings might be incorrect.
You must excuse a drunkard 22.


1 Poem 4 and poem 8 concern pine trees. Of the following two websites, the first provides a video entitled "Wine"; the second provides an audio clip entitled "Listening to the Sound of Pine Trees".

2 Yuan Qu (340-278 BCE) described his era by saying, "A cicada's wing is considered heavy, while a hundredweight is considered light. Musical chimes are discarded, while pots and pans thunder." Kuang Xun (310-220 BCE) described his society by saying, "Only the blind can see; only the deaf can hear. Danger is considered safety; propitious signs are considered ominous."

3 The essay "All Things Are the Same" in Zhuang-zi written by Zhou Zhuang (369-286 BCE) says, "Ni Wang said, 'If one sleeps on the damp ground, one will have backaches and may become paralyzed. Are men not like mud fish? If one sleeps on a tree, he worries that he may fall. Are men not like monkeys?'" Zhou Zhuang tried to convince people that there is no difference between right and wrong by improperly comparing humans with monkeys and mud fish.

4 Shang Mountain is located southeast of present day Shang-Xian City in Shaanxi Province. The Sunshine on Shang Mountain refers to "Yuan Dong, Li Yong, Ji Qi-li, and Huang Xia" They were men of integrity during the Qin dynasty (255-207 BCE). In order to avoid the tyranny of the Qin dynasty, they lived on Shang Mountain to wait for the advent of a time of peace.

5 The chrysanthemum blossoms make wine fragrant. It is said that chrysanthemums may lengthen one's lifespan.

6 The poem "Fisherman" in The Poetry of the State of Chu says, "After being banished from the king’s court, Yuan Qu (340-278 BCE) went to a riverside. He sighed while he was walking. His hair was disheveled. His face was full of sorrow. His body looked like a withering plant. A fisherman saw him and asked, 'Are you not Official Yuan Qu? What happened to you to make you look so awful?' Yuan Qu replied, 'The entire world is corrupt; only I am clean. Everyone is drunk; only I am sober. This is the reason why I was banished.' The fisherman said, 'A wise man will not stick to any principles. He will adjust himself to his surroundings. Now that the entire world is corrupt, why don't you drift with the tide? Now that everyone is drunk, why don't you taste their dregs and sip their light wine as well? Why do you stick to your moral standards and let yourself be banished?'"

7 Yuan was Hui Yan's alternate first name. He was a distinguished disciple of Confucius and a native of the State of Lu during the Spring-autumn Period.

8 Hui Yan died at the age of thirty-one.

9 The essay "Auspicious Signs" in Lei-zi says, "As Confucius visited Tai-shan Mountain, he saw Qi-qi Rong walking in the countryside of the State of Cheng. The latter was dressed in coarse clothing made of deer skin, with a rope as his belt. He played a lute and sang. Confucius asked him, “Why are you so happy?" Rong replied, "First, I am a human. Second, I am male. Third, I am ninety years old. I endure hardship because people suffer it frequently. Death is the inevitable result of life. I live an ordinary life and wait for death. There is nothing to worry about." Confucius said, "Qi-qi Rong knows how to console himself."

10 Wang-sun Yang of the Han dynasty was a Taoist during Emperor Wu-di's reign. On his deathbed he told his son, "I want to be buried in the nude so that my body can return to nature quickly. After I die, you should put my corpse into a cloth bag. When you bury me, you should place the bag into a deep hole, withdraw the bag from under my feet, and let my body touch the earth."

11 Wang-sun Yang wrote to the Duke of Qi, "Burial in the nude helps one's body quickly return to nature. A coffin takes a thousand years to rot. Thus, it impedes one's body from returning to nature. Burial in a luxurious way not only wastes money but may also cause grave robbery."

12 The essay "The Biography of Zhong-wei Zhang" in Noble Gentlemen says, "Zhong-wei Zhang was a native of Ping-ling County [Northeast of present day Xing-ping-xian County in Shaanxi Province]. Both he and Jing-qing Wei from the same county cultivated virtue and lived in seclusion. Zhong-wei Zhang studied astronomy and natural sciences. He mastered writing prose and poetry. His cottage was hidden among wild grasses. Living a simple life, he is not interested in fame. Most of his contemporaries did not know him. Only Gong Liu appreciated his talent." Here Yuan-ming Tao compared himself to Zhong-wei Zhang, but there was no one like Gong Liu who could appreciate Tao's ideals.

13 This line says that he became puzzled after working for a corrupt job for many years.

14 The essay "The Biography of King Gou-jian (who reigned from 496-465 BCE) of the State of Yue" in Chinese History says, "After Li Fan and Official Zhong helped King Gou-jian of the State of Yue conquer the State of Wu, Li Fan left the State of Yue for the State of Qi. Before Fan left, he wrote to Official Zhong, 'After birds are killed, the bow is discarded. After rabbits are killed, the hunting dog is cooked. The King of Yue looks sinister. You can share his woe but not his weal. Why don't you leave the State of Yue?' Before long, King Gou-jian ordered Official Zhong to commit suicide." The essay "The Biography of Xin Han" in Chinese History says, "After Bang Liu defeated Yu Xiang, he killed many of those who helped him establish the Han dynasty. When Xin Han was arrested, he said, 'This saying is true: After rabbits are killed, the hunting dog is cooked; after birds are killed, the bow is discarded; after the enemy is defeated, the advisors to the king are killed. Consequently, I should be destroyed when the nation returns to order.'" Tao used these stories to teach the lesson that one may be killed after making great contributions if one works for the government. It is better to return home in time and live in seclusion to avoid the disaster.

15 Xiong Yang (53-18 BCE) was a writer and philosopher during the Han dynasty.

16 Fei Liu (168-127 BCE), King of Jiang-du, asked Zhong-shu Dong (179-104 BCE) about the story of Gou-jian's attack on the State of Wu. Dong replied, "I am not wise enough to answer your question. I have heard the following story. The king of the State of Lu asked Hui Liu-xia (720-621 BCE), 'I want to attack the State of Qi. What is your opinion?' Liu-xia replied, 'You should not.' Later, Liu sorrowfully returned home. He said to himself, 'A king should not ask a gentleman about attacking other countries. Why did the king ask me this question?'" Dong continued, "A gentleman felt ashamed when being asked about aggression. Gou-jian used a spy to corrupt the King of Wu and then attacked his kingdom, so I do not want to talk about his story." See the essay "The Biography of Zhong-shu Dong" in The History of the Han Dynasty written by Gu Ban (32-92).

17 The essay "Forests" in Huai-nan-zi written by An Liu [179-122 BCE, King of Huai-nan] and his house guests says, "When Zhu Yang, a native of the State of Wei during the Warring States Period, reached a crossroad, he remained there and wept. He said, 'I can go north or south, but I will end up a thousand miles away from my destination if I make the wrong choice.'"

18 The essay "The Biography of Guang Shu" in The History of the Han Dynasty says, "Guang Shu was the crown prince's teacher. Shou Shu was the crown prince's housekeeper. They worried that their high-ranking positions might become targets for slander, so they resolved to resign their positions. The emperor gave them forty pounds of gold and the crown prince gave them one hundred pounds of gold. After they returned home, they used the gold to give banquets to entertain their friends and relatives."

19 Emperor Fu-xi (ca. 2852 BCE) taught people how to hunt and how to bore wood to get fire. Emperor Shen-nong (ca. 2737 BCE), a.k.a. Yan-di [the sun god], used medicine to cure illness and taught people to farm.

20 The essay "The Biography of Emperor Shi-huang of the Qin Dynasty" in Chinese History says, "Emperor Shi-huang (259-210 BCE) of the Qin Dynasty adopted the proposal of Prime Minister Si Li (280-208 BCE): Except for the books belonging to the members of the Royal Academy, all the books people collected such as The Book of Records, The Book of Poetry and books of various schools of philosophy had to be burned. If one dared discuss The Book of Records or The Book of Poetry, one would be sentenced to death."

21 Tao used his head scarf to filter wine. After he finished filtering the wine, he put the head scarf back on his head.

22 There was no freedom of speech during Tao's time. If one's words offended the authority, one had to find an excuse.