Chinese Poems – Drinking Wine (V) by Tao Yuanming 饮酒 (其五) 陶渊明

In people’s haunt I build my cot;

Of wheel’s and hoof’s noise I hear not.

How can it leave on me no trace?

Secluded heart makes secluded place.

I pick fenceside asters at will;

Carefree appears the Southern Hill.

The mountain air’s fresh day and night;

Together birds go home in flight.

What revelation at this view’?

Words fail me if l try to tell you.

his poem was written when Tao Yuanming was drinking wine and picking I flowers after he had broken with the official circles and returned to his hometown, living a tranquil and contented idyllic life. He composed twenty poems entitled Drinking Wine all together, and this is the fifth one.

The key of the poem is “if you’re free from desire and strife, then your whereabouts would be remote and peaceful”, and there are different explanations about what they mean. The rough idea is that one should purify his soul and banish distracting thoughts from his mind, and pursue no official ranks, status or vulgar material gains. He should live a fresh, healthy and self-satisfied life in a relaxed and free atmosphere. If he achieves this, no temptation outside can perturb him, and his body and thought would be in harmony with the happy nature. Only then can he really appreciate the beauty of nature and realize the true meaning of life. That’s the highest state one should pursue in life.

Tao Yuanming was trying to escape reality, but it’s very difficult for his thoughts to become true in the real social life. The reason that he had these thoughts was that he had seen through the official life and hated bitterly the corruption and struggle of the official circles, but he was unable to change the reality. At the same time his Utopian thought demonstrated his pure and high-minded disposition, which has been admired by lots of intellectuals who hate to live in the vulgar society. Tao Yuanming, who lived a melancholy life, won immortal fame and has been respected by later generations.

The most well-known lines in this poem are “I pick fence side asters at will; Carefree appears the Southern Hill.” Chrysanthemums, having the unique character of blooming in autumn, symbolize the nobility of the poet. These lines, lovely and natural with a carefree mood, associate nature with the poet cleverly and make chrysanthemums loved very much by people.

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