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The Book of Songs and China's Literary Tradition

Wang Can and the Poetry of Scholar-Officials during the Han

Poetry of Retreat at the Fall of the Han

Prelude to Tang Poetry: Poetry of the Zhou and Han

"Returning to Dwell in Gardens and Fields"

"Returning to Dwell in Gardens and Fields," by Tao Qian

My youth felt no comfort in common things,
by my nature I clung to the mountains and hills.

I erred and fell in the snares of dust
and was away thirteen years in all.

The caged bird yearns for its former woods,
fish in a pool yearns for long-ago deeps.

Clearing scrub at the edge of the southern moors,
I stay plain by returning to gardens and fields,

My holdings are just more than ten acres,
a thatched cottage of eight or nine rooms.

Elms and willows shade eaves at the back,
peach and plum spread in front of the hall.

The far towns of men are hidden from sight,
a faint blur of smoke from village hearths.

A dog is barking deep in the lanes,
a rooster cries out atop a mulberry.

No dust pollutes my doors or yard,
empty space offering ample peace.

For a long time I was kept inside a coop,
now again I return to the natural way.

Stephen Owen :: And it's perhaps the first occasion in the Chinese tradition we have a long sustained meditation on what makes a person, what makes one happy in life, and again very much following, realizing what one's nature is, and making the decision to live that way. And poetry plays a very important role in this process. Tao Qian writes poetry to affirm his decision, to reflect on everyday events, to live this life he's decided to live; this kind of life which society thinks is a bad choice, a strange choice, and to declare in his poetry: I'm happy living this way. I like farming. I like finishing up hard work and reading my books.

And so poetry becomes something like autobiography that supports him through his life, this solitary decision, this decision to go against conventional values. And it declares his decision, his choices, to other people.