Home again among fields and gardens

1.

Nothing like all the others, even as a child,

rooted in such love for hills and mountains,

I stumbled into their net of dust, that one

departure a blunder lasting thirteen years.

But a tethered bird longs for its old forest,

and a pond fish its deep waters - so now,

my southern outlands cleared, I nurture

simplicity among these fields and gardens,

home again. I've got nearly two acres here,

and four or five rooms in our thatched hut,

elms and willows shading the eaves in back,

and in front, peach and plum spread wide.

Villages lost across mist-and-haze distances,

kitchen smoke drifting wide-open country,

dogs bark deep among back roads out here,

and roosters crow from mulberry treetops.

No confusion within these gates, no dust,

my empty home harbors idleness to spare.

After so long caged in that trap, I've come

back again to occurrence appearing of itself.

by T'ao Ch'ien (365 - 427)

trans. David Hinton in Classical Chinese Poetry, 2008, Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Here are some favourite Chinese poems.


Plucking the Rushes, anon. 4th century CE

(A boy and girl are sent to gather rushes for thatching)

Green rushes with red shoots,
Long leaves bending to the wind -
You and I in the same boat
Plucking rushes at Five Lakes.

We started at dawn from the orchid-island:
We rested under the elms till noon.
You and I plucking rushes
Had not plucked a handful when night came!

trans. by Arthur Waley in 170 Chinese Poems


Returning to the Fields by T'ao Ch'ien (365-427)

When I was young, I was out of tune with the herd:
My only love was for the hills and mountains.

Unwitting I fell into the Web of the World's dust
And was not free until my thirtieth year.

The migrant bird longs for the old wood:
The fish in the tank thinks of its native pool.

I had rescued from wildness a patch  of the Southern Moor
And, still rustic, I returned to field and garden.

My ground covers no more than ten acres:
My thatched cottage has eight or nine rooms.

Elms and willows cluster by the eaves:
Peach trees and plum trees grow before the Hall.

Hazy, hazy the distant hamlets of men.

Steady the smoke of the half-deserted village,
A dog barks somewhere in the deep lanes,
A cock crows at the top of the mulberry tree.

At gate and courtyard - no murmur of the World's dust:
In the empty rooms - leisure and deep stillness.

Long I lived checked by the bars of a cage:
Now I have turned again to Nature and Freedom.

trans. by Arthur Waley in 170 Chinese Poems


Lao-Tzu by Po Chu'i (772 - 846 CE)

"Those who speak know nothing;
Those who know are silent."

These words, as I am told,
Were spoken by Lao-tzu.

If we are to believe that Lao-tzu
Was himself one who knew,
How comes it that he wrote a book
Of five thousand words?

trans. by Arthur Waley in 170 Chinese Poems


New Corn by T'ao Ch'ien (365-427)

Swiftly the years, beyond recall.
Solemn the stillness of this fair morning.

I will clothe myself in spring-clothing
And visit the slopes of the Eastern Hill.

By the mountain-stream a mist hovers,
Hovers a moment, then scatters.

There comes a wind blowing from the south
That brushes the fields of new corn.

trans. by Arthur Waley in 170 Chinese Poems


The Golden Palace (anon, 1st century BCE)

We go to the Golden Palace:
We set out the jade cups.

We summon the honoured guests
To enter at the Golden Gate.

They enter at the Golden Gate
And go to the Golden Hall.

In the Eastern Kitchen the meat is sliced and ready -
Roast beef and boiled pork and mutton.

The Master of the Feast hands round the wine.

The harp-players sound their clear chords.

The cups are pushed aside and we face each other at chess:
The rival pawns are marshalled rank against rank.

The fire glows and the smoke puffs and curls;
From the incense-burner rises a delicate fragrance.

The clear wine has made our cheeks red;
Round the table joy and peace prevail.

May those who shared in this day's delight
Through countless autumns enjoy like felicity.

trans. by Arthur Waley in 170 Chinese Poems


Inviting Guests by Ch'eng-kung Sui (died 273 CE)

I sent out invitations
To summon guests.
I collected together
All my friends.

Loud talk
And simple feasting:
Discussion of philosophy,
Investigation of subtleties.

Tongues loosened and minds at one.
Hearts refreshed
By discharge of emotion!

trans. by Arthur Waley in 170 Chinese Poems


On the birth of his son by Su Tung-p'o, 1036-1101 CE

Families, when a child is born
Want it to be intelligent.

I, through intelligence,
Having wrecked my whole life,
Only hope the baby will prove
Ignorant and stupid.

Then he will crown a quiet life
By becoming a Cabinet Minister

trans. by Arthur Waley in 170 Chinese Poems


Being visited by a friend during illness by Po Chu'i (772 - 846 CE)

I have been ill so long that I do not count the days;
At the southern window, evening - and again evening.

Sadly chirping in the grasses under my eaves
The winter sparrows morning and evening sing.

By an effort I rise and lean heavily on my bed;
Tottering I step towards the door of the courtyard.

By chance I meet a friend who is coming to see me;
Just as if I had gone specially to meet him.

They took my couch and placed it in the setting sun;
They spread my rug and I leaned on the balcony-pillar.

Tranquil talk was better than any medicine;
Gradually the feelings came back to my numbed heart.

trans. by Arthur Waley in 170 Chinese Poems


Home again among fields and gardens

by T'ao Ch'ien (365 - 427)

(this is an alternative translation to 'Returning to the Fields - above)

1.

Nothing like all the others, even as a child,

rooted in such love for hills and mountains,

I stumbled into their net of dust, that one

departure a blunder lasting thirteen years.

But a tethered bird longs for its old forest,

and a pond fish its deep waters - so now,

my southern outlands cleared, I nurture

simplicity among these fields and gardens,

home again. I've got nearly two acres here,

and four or five rooms in our thatched hut,

elms and willows shading the eaves in back,

and in front, peach and plum spread wide.

Villages lost across mist-and-haze distances,

kitchen smoke drifting wide-open country,

dogs bark deep among back roads out here,

and roosters crow from mulberry treetops.

No confusion within these gates, no dust,

my empty home harbors idleness to spare.

After so long caged in that trap, I've come

back again to occurrence appearing of itself.

trans. David Hinton in Classical Chinese Poetry, 2008, Farrar, Straus and Giroux

 


I've put in gardens south of the fields, opened up a stream and planted trees

 

by Hiseh Ling-Yun (385 - 433)

Woodcutter and recluse - they inhabit

these mountains for different reasons,

and there are other forms of difference.

You can heal here among these gardens,

sheltered from rank vapors of turmoil,

wilderness clarity calling distant winds.

I ch'i-sited my house on a northern hill,

doors opening out onto a southern river,

ended trips to the well with a new stream

and planted hibiscus on terraced banks.

Now there are flocks of trees at my door

and crowds of mountains at my window,

and I wander thin trails down to fields

or gaze into a distance of towering peaks,

wanting little, never wearing myself out.

It's rare luck to make yourself such a life,

though like ancient recluse paths, mine

brings longing for the footsteps of friends:

how could I forget them in this exquisite

adoration kindred spirits alone can share?

trans. David Hinton in Classical Chinese Poetry, 2008, Farrar, Straus and Giroux


Lao-Tzu by Po Chu'i (772 - 846 CE)

"Those who speak know nothing;
Those who know are silent."

These words, as I am told,
Were spoken by Lao-tzu.

If we are to believe that Lao-tzu
Was himself one who knew,
How comes it that he wrote a book
Of five thousand words?

trans. by Arthur Waley in 170 Chinese Poems


Wandering up Ample-Gauze Creek on a Spring Day

by Li Po 701-762 C.E.


At the canyons mouth, I'm singing. Soon
the path ends. People don't go any higher.
I scramble up cliffs into impossible valleys,
and follow the creek back toward its source.
Up where newborn clouds rise over open rock,
a guest comes into wildflower confusions,
I'm still lingering on, my climb unfinished,
as the sun sinks away west of peaks galore.

trans. David Hinton in Classical Chinese Poetry, 2008, Farrar, Straus and Giroux


Losing teeth

by Han Yu 768 - 824

Last year a lone molar tumbled out,

and this year, an incisor vanished,

then all at once, six or seven tipped

away, and it's not over yet, oh no:

every tooth I have's a rickety mess.

This won't end till they're all gone.

When the first one went, I just felt

a bit embarrassed about it, that hole,

but then, after two or three more,

I began to think death was at hand,

and every time another threatened,

terror quaked straight through me

as it teetered there. I couldn't chew

for fear, or even rinse it with water,

and breaking loose, abandoning me,

it seemed like a mountain collapsing.

Lately, though, I've gotten used to it.

Now, seeing one go is pure emptiness,

and I still have a couple dozen left.

I know they'll topple out one by one,

but if they take their time, fall maybe

one per year, they'll last two decades,

and if they tumble all at once, all that

emptiness - the end result's the same.

People say once your teeth start to go,

you may as well forget about long life,

but I say every life has its own limits,

and long life or short, death is death.

People say tooth-holes glaring out

spook anyone looking you in the face,

but I say Chaung Tzu's right: singing

geese, junk trees: either way, life's joy.

Besides, better dark silence than lies,

and soft food's fine without any teeth,

like this poem sung: quite a shocker,

I'm sure for my sweet wife and kids.

trans. David Hinton in Classical Chinese Poetry, 2008, Farrar, Straus and Giroux


We cut grasses

From the Book of Songs (c. 15th to 6th century BCE)

We cut grasses, hack brush,

and plow fields so rich, rich,

thousands clearing out roots,

clearing dikes and paddies,

some lords and some elders,

some parents, some children,

some strong and some weak,

all sharing farmland meals,

men adoring beautiful wives

and wives beside their men,

men that hone ploughshares

and till these southern fields.

We sow the hundred grains,

those seeds so quick with life

they sprout in no time at all

and rise up sturdy and tall,

rise sturdy and lush and tall,

weeded over and over again

until we harvest such plenty,

such rich plenty staking up

a thousand million and more

and more, to make deep wine

we offer lavish to ancestors

according to a hundred rites:

and its scent full of sweetness

brings our homeland splendor,

and its fragrance full of spice

brings our aged long repose.

This isn't just this one harvest,

and this isn't just this one day:

we live all antiquity in this.

trans. David Hinton in Classical Chinese Poetry, 2008, Farrar, Straus and Giroux