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To Song-ling Yang 1

Tao, Yuan-ming (365-427 CE)


    General Ling-shi Zhu sent Official Song-ling Yang to Chang-an City as the envoy to congratulate Yu Liu on his victory 2. Yang stopped by my house. I wrote this poem and presented it to him.

Even though I was born long after the Xia, Shang and Zhou dynasties,
I admire the times of peace during the reigns of Emperors Huang-di and Yu-shun.
A thousand years later I learn this by reading history books.
Most of China's relics are at Chang-an City 3.
I always desire to visit this ancient city,
But it is difficult to climb mountains, cross rivers, and enter the enemy's territory.
Now Yu Liu has unified China.
I should prepare boats and carriages for my desired journey.
When I heard you are on your way to Chang-an City,
I wished I could go with you,
But my illness will not allow it.
If you passed Shang Mountain,
You should linger there for a while.
Please honor the souls of the Sunshine on Shang Mountain 4 for me.
Who will gather herbs there now?
The deep valley must have lain in waste for a long time.
Magnificent carriages and fine horses will not prevent disaster.
The poor and lowly may enjoy friendship and happiness.
The song composed by the Sunshine on Shang Mountain
Expresses my innermost feelings.
The contemporary corruption alienates me from these sages.
Separated from them by a thousand years,
I worry about our state affairs.
Even though I have done my best to write this poem,
It fails to fully express my feelings.


1 Yuan-ming Tao lamented that China's moral degeneration is getting worse day by day. This was why he missed the times of peace mentioned in history books. Instead of asking Song-ling Yang to congratulate Yu Liu for him, Tao asked Yang to honor the virtuous Sunshine on Shang Mountain. This poem to Yang was both ironical and admonishing. It reaches readers with its lingering appeal and gives them something to think about. Dong-shu Fang (1772-1851) of the Qing dynasty considered this poem the best of Yuan-ming Tao's poems.

2 In 416, Yu Liu led troops north to attack the Kingdom of Late Qin. In November, he captured Lo-yang City. In October 417, he captured Chang-an City and sent Hong Yao, the last king of Late Qin to Jian-kang City to be executed. General Ling-shi Zhu was the commander at Jian-kang City, the capital of the Eastern Jin dynasty.

3 The following two videos are part 1 and part 2 of the melody entitled "The Eight Great Sceneries of Chang-an City":

4 Shang Mountain is located southeast of present day Shang-xian City in Shaanxi Province. The Sunshine on Shang Mountain refers to "Bing Tang, Guang Cui, Shi Wu, and Shu Zhou". 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. They composed a song. It says, "Shang Mountain is tall./ Its valley is deep and long./ Lush herbs free us from hunger./ The Tang and Yu dynasties ended a long time ago./ When will we have a time of peace again?/ The one with magnificent carriages and fine horses has tremendous worries./ The poor and lowly may enjoy a happy life."