+ About the Speakers

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

"Drinking Wine #5"

Robert Oxnam :: One of Tao Qian's poems is particularly famous for its influence on later generations of poets. It is the fifth in a series entitled "Drinking Wine."

In this poem, Tao Qian meditates upon the meaning of retreat.

"Drinking Wine, #5," by Tao Qian

I built my hut on the realm of men
yet I hear no rumble of horse and carriage.

Pray, sir, how can this be true?
When the mind's far away, your land too is remote.

Paul Rouzer :: At the beginning of this poem, Tao Qian mentions that his own particular hut of reclusion still exists in the realm of men. And yet he goes on to say in a form of paradox that he can no longer hear the sounds of the people who pass by his own particular place.

Why is this? Why does this happen to be so? he asks. The reason, he says, is that reclusion is really a state of mind and not necessarily a question of physical occupation of a remote place. So in other words, Tao Qian is suggesting that a man can live in a state of reclusion, yet continue to participate in the realm of men. He illustrates this by a particularly powerful couplet. A couplet which in many ways is a couplet which has been influential on many Chinese poets.

"Drinking Wine, #5" (continued)

I pick chrysanthemums by my eastern hedge;
far off I see the southern hills.

How fine the sunset through mountain mists,
and the soaring birds come home together.

There is some real meaning in all of this,
though when I try to grasp it I forget the words.

Paul Rouzer :: In between Tao Qian's hedge and the southern mountains is precisely this world of men, which, through a sheer act of will, he's able to ignore. He then elaborates on this particular image to some extent, further on in the poem.

And then goes on to suggest, as many Daoist philosophers have suggested, that ultimate truth cannot be conveyed in language.