( 魏 晋 五 言 诗 )

Wei was a kingdom during the Three-Kingdom period (220-280), we only mention Wei, because it was more outstanding in poetry than Shu and Wu Kingdoms. Jin (265-420) includes both Western Jin (265-316) and Eastern Jin (317-420) Dynasties. Wu Yan (五言) poetry, means five-character a lone poems.

Wu Yan poetry was evolved from “Yue Fu” poetry. It was formalized at the turn of the second century to the third century. We refer to this period in the Chinese history of literature as the “Jian An (建安) Era”. Jian An was the title of the reign of Emperor Xian of Han. During this period, Cao Cao was the Prime Minister of Wei; he and his two sons were leaders in the world of letters at the time. Besides three Caos, seven scholars were also famous. They not only carried on the tradition of “Yue Fu”—“touched by sadness or happiness and inspired by events”, but also laid a solid foundation for “Wu Yan” poetry.

曹操 (Cao Cao, 155-220) was a statesman, master of military affairs and a great poet. He became the Prime Minister of Wei in 209, in 214 was knighted the Duke of Wei, in 217 became the King of Wei and was conferred 

A portrait of Cao Cao
the title Emperor Wu of Wei posthumously. There are only less than 20 poems of Cao Cao in existence today. They were all written in the form of 《Yue Fu Poems》, for instance 《薤露行, Xie Lu Xing, The Dew of Grass》 and 《蒿里行, Hao Li Xing, The Wormwoods》 were all titles in 《Yue Fu Poems》, but Cao Cao used them to write about current events of the time. In the latter, his sympathetic pen recorded the sufferings of the people in war:

铠甲生虮虱,            Kǎi jiǎ shēng jī shī,
万姓以死亡,            Wàn xìng yǐ sǐ wáng,
白骨露于野,            Bái gǔ lù yū yě,
千里无鸡鸣,            Qiān lǐ wū jī míng,
生民百遗一,            Shēng mín bǎi yí yī,
念之断人肠。            Niàn zhī duàn rēn cháng.

Louses and their eggs are found in the armors,
Ten thousand people died,
Their white bones are exposed in the wilds,
No cock’s crow can be heard in a thousand li,
Only one out of a hundred is alive,
It’s heartbroken to think of the scene.

His 《步出夏门行, Bu Chu Xia Men Xing, Exit from Xia Men》 is consisted of several parts, among them the following two are most well known:

   观沧海,                Guan Cang Hai

东临碣石,              Dōng lín jíe shí,
以观沧海。              Yǐ guān cāng hǎi.
水何澹澹,              Shūi hé dān dān,
山岛竦峙。              Shān dǎo sǒng zhì.
树木丛生,              Shū mù cōng shēng,
百草丰茂。              Bǎi cāo fēng mào.
秋风萧瑟,              Qiū fēng xiáo sè,
洪波涌起。              Hōng bó yǒng qǐ.
日月之行,              Rī yùe zhī xíng,
若出其中;              Rūo chū qí zhōng;
星汉灿烂,              Xíng hàn càn làn,
若出其里。              Rūo chū qī lǐ.
幸甚至哉,              Xìng shèn zhī zāi,
歌以咏志。              Gé yǐ yōng zhì.

Observing the Blue Sea

Coming to the ease, I climbed up Mountain Jieshi,
To observe the blue sea.
The water is so vast,
Hills and islands raise from it straight.
Trees and bush are all over,
Grasses prosper.
When autumn wind is soughing,
Gigantic waves are surging.
The movement of sun and moon,
Seemed to be powered up by the waves;
The splendid Milky Way,
Seemed to be born from the inside of the waves.
Since my mind is filled with elevation,
I compose this song to voice my aspiration.

Cao Cao devoted the whole poem to natural scenery. No poet had ever done so before Cao Cao. This poem can be regarded as the earliest landscape poem of China. Cao Cao wrote it in September of the 12th year of “Jian An” period after he returned from a successful battle. Ever since Song Yu, all poems about autumn carry a sad tone. Yet, no sadness can be detested from this poem. What we find in it is magnitude, vigor, power and grandeur which illustrate the broad mind of the poet. Another poem in this part is 《龟虽寿, Gui Sui Shou, Though the Long Life of Turtle》 which read:

  神龟虽寿,            Shén gūi súi shòu,
  犹有竟时。            Yōu yǒu jìng shī.
  腾蛇乘雾,            Tēng shé chēng wù,
  终为土灰。            Zhūng wéi tǔ hūi,
  老骥伏枥,              Lǎo jì fū lí,
  志在千里,            Zhì zài qiān lǐ,
  烈士暮年,             Liè shì mù nián,
  壮心不已。             Zhuàng xín bù yǐ.
  盈缩之期,             Yíng sūo zhī qī,
  不但在天;             Bù dàn zài tián;
  养怡之福,             Yǎng yí zhī fū,
  可得永年。             Ké dē yǒng niǎn,
  幸甚至哉,             Xìng shèn zhì zāi,
  歌以咏志。             Gé yǐ yǒng zhì.

  Long was the life of the divined turtle,
  It came to an end still.
  Flying snake used to wind through mist,
  It finally became dust.
  The old horse is feeding itself by the manger,
  Another thousand li it wishes to cover,
  The heart of a hero in his old age,
  Is as stout as ever.
  The wax of life or its wane,
  Is not entirely decided by heaven;
  If one knows how to keep himself healthy and happy,
  He can certainly obtain longevity.
  Since my mind is in such a state of elevation,
  I compose this song to voice my aspiration.

The poet was 53 when he wrote this poem, which stated truly his positive and enterprising spirit. He also wrote songs to express his political ideals and his willingness to open all venues for people of talent, for instance in 《短歌行, Duan Ge Xing, A Short Songs》:

  对酒当歌,              Dùi jiǔ dāng gé,
  人生几何?              Rēn shéng jǐ hé?
  譬如朝露,              Pì rū zhāo lù,
  去日苦多。              Qù rī kǔ dūo.
  慨当以慷,              Kǎi dāng yǐ kāng,
  忧思难忘。              Yōu sī nān wàng,
  何以解忧,              Hé yǐ jǐe yōu,
  唯有杜康。              Wéi yǒu dù kāng.
  青青子衿,              Qīng qīng zǐ jīn,
  悠悠我心。              Yōu yōu wó xīn,
  但为君故,              Dàn wéi jūn gù,
  沉吟至今。              Chēn yīn zhì jīn.
  呦呦鹿鸣,              Yōu yōu lù míng,
  食野之苹。              Shí yě zhī pīng.
  我有嘉宾,              Wó yǒu jiā bīn,
  鼓瑟吹笙。              Gǔ sè chūi shēng.
  明明如月,              Míng míng rú yùe,
  何时可掇。              Hé shī kě dúo.
  忧从中来,              Yōu cōng zhōng lái,
  不可断绝。              Bù kě duàn jūe.
  越陌度阡,              Yùe mò dù qiān,
  枉用相存。              Wǎng yòng xiāng cūn.
  契阔谈宴,               Qì kùo tán yàn,
  心念旧恩。              Xīn niàn jiù ēn.
  月明星稀,              Yùe míng xīng xī,
  乌鹊南飞。              Wū qùe nǎn féi.
  绕树三匝,              Rào shù sān zā,
  何枝可依。              Hé zhī kě yī.
  山不厌高,              Shān bù yàn gáo,
  水不厌深,              Shūi bú yàn shēn,
  周公吐哺,              Zhōu gōng tǔ bǔ,
  天下归心。              Tiān xià guī xīn.

  When raise a cup of wine, one should sing,
  After all life can not be ever lasting.
  Isn’t life just like the morning dew?
  Day after day its evaporation can not even be slow.
  Though my generosity goes along with chivalry,
  I can not get rid of my worry.
  To forget my worry,
  The liquor of Dukang is the only recipe.
  Young scholars’ blue gown,
  Has appeared in my mind for long.
  It is because of this young gentry,


  I have kept my voice low until today.
  The deer call to one another with beautiful sound,
  While eating celery in the field.
  I have honorable guest,
  For them drums, string and pipe instruments are played.
  (The gentry is like) the bright moon,
  When can I reach it in the heaven?
  This thought gives me worry,
  I can no longer find peace and merry.
  You all have come from far away,
  And demeaned yourselves to work with me.
  We are talking so heartily at this banquet,
  Your trust and favor I shall not forget.
  The moon is bright, yet stars are sparse,
  The magpies are flying to the south.
  They sometimes fly around a tree three times,
  Can not decide to rest on which branches.
  Mountain never rejects height,
  Water never rejects depth,
  I shall act like Duke Zhou who nursed talents,
  And win the trust from every heart.

It is said that Cao Cao composed this poem at a banquet held on a big ship at the northern bank of the Changjiang River, before a decisive battle with the Kingdom of Wu. The poem expressed his broad mind of desiring more talented people. The “blue gown” and “deer call” are famous lines from 《The Book of Songs》. He compared talents to the moon, those who had not decided to join him as magpies. It should be pointed out that Cao Cao’s personnel policy was very bold and creative at the time. People he used may not be “kind” or “filial”, but they were experts in the art of warfare and state matters.
Cao Cao’s poems are heartfelt, powerful and simple without embellishment. Passion, sadness and chill are the basic tone of “Jian An” literature. They are most striking in Cao Cao’s poems. He was the first who used old 《Yue Fu Poems》 titles to describe events, for instance, 《The Dew on Grass》 and 《The  Wormwoods》 were elegies in 《Yue Fu Poems》, but Cao Cao gave them contents, which were entirely new. Because Cao Cao’s influence, many scholars were gathered around him, including the “seven scholars” we mentioned before, at Yexia, the capital of Wei.

Cao Pi (曹丕, 187-226), the elder son of Cao Cao took over the seat of the King of Wei in 220. He was able to write beautiful articles when he was only eight. He is an outstanding poet in his own right, 40 of his poems are now in existence.

Cao Zhi (曹植, 192-232), the third and most talented son of Cao Cao who intended to appoint him the crown prince. Yet Cao Cao was several times enraged at Cao Zhi’s unbridled behaviors while his elder brother was good at currying favors with Cao Cao. After Pi became

A portrait of Cao Zhi
the King, he was very much on guard against Zhi and limited Zhi’s actions. Pi was still jealous of Zhi’s talents after he came to power. To embarrass Zhi, Pi asked Zhi to compose a poem within seven steps in front of all the ministers. Before the seventh step, the following lines were uttered out of Zhi’s mouth:

  煮豆燃豆萁,             Zhǔ dòu rān dòu jí,
  豆在釜中泣,             Dòu zài fǔ zhōng qì,
  本是同根生,             Bēn shì tóng gēn shēng,
  相煎何太急?             Xiāng jiān hé tài jí?

  Bean is being boiled by burning its stalks,
  Bean is crying inside the cauldron,
  Since we were born from the same root,
  Why so anxious in boiling me?

So, in the end, the one that was embarrassed was Cao Pi. When talking about Zhi’s talent, Xie Lingyun of Southern 

A painting depicting Cao Zhi’s prose “The Deity of River Luo”.

Dynasties said, “If there are 100 gift in the world, Zhi has possessed 80, I possess 10 and all other people under heaven share the rest.” The following words in his famous poetic prose 《The Deity of River Luo》 can show how fertile his pen was: “Her figure, light as a startled swan goose flying up, graceful as a meandering dragon. Her looks glow as autumn chrysanthemum, exuberate as a spring pine. She sometimes looked so indistinct as the moon being shaded by a layer of light clouds; sometimes lithe as the snow drifted back by wind. Looking from afar, she is as radiant as rosy clouds at dawn; closing up, she is brilliant as lotus rising from green waters.” Zhi’s poems in his early days are different from his later days. His early poetry falls into two categories: 《斗鸡, Dou Ji, Cock’s Fight》 and 《公宴, Gong Yan, The Duke’s Banquet》 in the first category reflect his leisurely life as a prince; 《送应氏, Song Ying Shi, Seeing Off Ying》 and 《泰山梁甫行, Tai Shan Liang Fu Xing, Liangfu on Mount Tai》 in the second category reflect his experience of being born in unrest and grew up in army life, the following lines in the latter poem are well known:

  八方各异气,             Bā fāng gè yì qì,
  千里殊风雨。             Qiān lǐ shū fēng yǔ.
  剧哉边海民,             Jù zāi biān hǎi mīn,
  寄身于草野。             Jì shēn yū cāo yě.
  妻子象禽兽,             Qī zī xiàng qín shòu,
  行止依林阻。             Xíng zhī yī lín zǔ.
  柴门何萧条,             Chái mēn hé xiāo tiáo,
  狐兔翔我宇。             Hú tǖ xiáng wǒ yǔ.

  Atmosphere differs from place to place,
  Wind and rain are different a thousand li away.
  People by seaside are leading a hard life,
  They live in the wilds.
  Their wives look like birds and beasts,
  Their actions are dangerous in mountain forests.
  It’s desolate behind the wooden door,
  Even fox and rabbit come in to play.

Poems of his later period conveyed his indignant and grief feelings and his unwillingness of being put aside without doing anything. After two of his friends were killed by Pi, he wrote 《野田黄雀行, Ye Tian Huang Que Xing, The Flight of Yellow Sparrows in the Fields》 to criticize Pi. He wrote another 《The  Dew of Grass》 to express his aspirations even though he was in adversity:

  怀此王佐才,             Huāi cǐ wāng zǔo cāi,
  慷慨独不群。             Káng kǎi dū bù qūn.
  …                       ……
  骋我径寸翰,             Chèng wǒ jìng cùn hàn,
  流藻垂华芬。             Liú zào chūi húa fēn.

  I possess the talent of assisting a king,
  I’m impassioned and unique.
  I could only run my brush pen freely,
  Let the beauty of my writings pass on.

One of the 《七哀诗, Qi Ai Shi, Poems of Seven Sorrows》 conveys the same spirit:

  愿欲一轻济,             Yuàn yù yī qīng jì,
  惜哉无方舟,             Xī zāi wū fāng zhōu,
  闲居非吾志,             Xián jū fēi wū zhì,
  甘心赴国忧。             Gān xīn fù gúo yōu.

  I would like to have a light crossing over waters,
  Regretfully I have no boat.
  Staying idle at home is not my wish,
  I’d rather relieve the worries of the state
In the following poem, Zhi expressed his pent-up feelings by comparing himself to a beauty:

  美 女 篇                 Mēi Nǚ Piān
   曹 植                   by Cao Zhi

  美女妖且闲,             Mēi nǚ yáo qiě xiàn,
  采桑歧路间。             Cǎi sāng qí lù jiān.
  柔条纷冉冉,             Rōu tiáo fēn rǎn rǎn,
  落叶何翩翩。             Lùo yè hé piān piān.
  攘袖见素手,             Rǎng xiù jiàn sù shǎu,
  皓腕约金环。             Hào wàn yūe jīn huāng.
  头上金爵钗,             Tōu shàng jīn jǔe chāi,
  腰佩翠琅玕。             Yāo pèi cùi lāng gān.
  明珠交玉体,             Míng zhū jiāo yù tǐ,
  珊瑚间木难。             Shān hú jiān mù nān.
  罗衣何飘飖,             Lūo yī hé piāo yáo,
  轻裾随风还。             Qīng jū súi fēng huán.
  顾盼遗光彩,             Pàn gù yí guāng cǎi,
  长啸气若兰。             Chāng xiào ìi rūo lán.
  行徒用息驾,             Xīng tú yòng xī jià,
  休者以忘餐。             Xiū zhē yǐ wàng cān.
  借问女安居,             Jiè wèn nǔ ān jū,
  乃在城南端。             Nǎi zài chēng nān duān.
  青楼临大路,             Qīng lōu lín dà lù,
  高门结重关。             Gāo mēn jīe chōng guān.
  容华耀朝日,             Róng hūa yào zhāo rī,
  谁不希令颜?             Shūi bù xī lìng yǎn?
  媒氏何所营?             Mēi shī hé sūo yíng?
  玉帛不时安。             Yù bō bù shī ān.
  佳人慕高义,             Jiā rén mù gáo yì,
  求贤良独难。             Qiú xiān liáng dū nān.
  众人徒嗷嗷,             Zhòng rén tū ào ào,
  安知彼所观?             ān zhī bǐ sūo guān?
  盛年处房室,             Shèng nián chù fāng shī,
  中夜起长叹。             Zhōng yè qǐ cháng tàn.

  The Beauty
  By Cao Zhi

  The girl is beautiful and gentle,
  Collecting mulberry by the road crossing.
  The branches are softly dancing,
  And the leaves are lightly dripping.
  Sleeves rolled up to expose the white hand,
  On the white wrist there is a golden ring.
  A golden hairpin on her head,
  And green ornament worn at her waist.
  Embellished with red coral,
  Her jade-like body also wears bright pearl.
  Her silk dress is fluttering gently,
  With the front part being blown backwards.
  Her glance carries splendor,
  Her long breath smells with orchid flavor.
  Passers stopped their carts when looking at her,
  Forgot to go on eating was some lunch takers.
  People may ask where she lives,
  Well, she lives in the southern part of the city.
  The gray building sits by the roadside,
  With a high gate and a few heavy bolts.
  Since her looks is as bright as the morning sun,
  Who would not adore her beauty?
  What have the matchmakers been doing?
  Why jade and silk was not sent timely?
  The beauty would love one with high virtue,
  But such a person is hard to find.
  Everybody is talking about her in vain,
  Nobody understands her aspiration.
  Still in her boudoir in the prime of her life,
  So she often wakes up at mid-night and sigh.

Ye Xie, a critic of Qing Dynasty said this poem carried much more weight than all other poems created in the Han Dynasty and the Kingdom of Wei, because the conception is delicate, implicit and meaningful, the language flowery, yet refined and the rhym natural.
There are more than 80 of Cao Zhi’s poems that have been well kept. Cao Zhi has been regarded the first poet who laid a foundation for “Wu Yan” poetry, a great master of “Wu Yan” poetry. Some even said that Zhi’s poetry “shines over the past and today, he is matchless.” Some of his lines have become epigrams, for instance:
   Gua tian bu na lu, li xia bu zheng guan.
  Don't pull on your shoe in a melon patch,
  Don’t adjust your cap under a plum tree.
  (note: the implication is that doing so, you would be mistaken as a thief.)

  捐躯赴国难, 视死忽如归。
  Juan qu fu guo nan, shi si hu ru gui.
  Lay down your life to relieve the state from adversity,
  Look upon death as going home.

This is certainly the result of his efforts in refining and polishing the words he intended to use in his poetry, which is on the one hand intensely impassioned and vigorous and on the other hand rich and colorful in his language. Later critics and scholars always took the style of the three Caos to evaluate poetry, and they named it the “Vigorous style of Jian An”.
Aside from Cao Zhi, Wang Can (177-217) was the next 
A portrait of Wang Can

most famous poet of the time. Only 23 of his poems have been kept to date, among them 《Poems of Seven Sorrows》 have always been popularly known. The first (of the three) poem of seven sorrows reads:

  西京乱无象,           Xī jíng luàn wū xiàng,
  豺虎方遘患。           Chái hǔ fáng gòu huàn.
  复弃中国去,           Fù qì zhōng gúo qù,
  委身适荆蛮。           Wěi shēn shì jíng mān.
  亲戚对我悲,           Qīn qì dùi wǒ bēi,
  朋友相追攀。           Péng yǒu xiāng zhūi pān.
  出门无所见,           Chū mén wú sǔo jiàn,
  白骨蔽平原。           Bái gǔ bì píng yuān.
  路有饥夫人,           Lù yǒu jī fū rén,
  抱子弃草间。           Bōo zī qì cǎo jiān.
  顾闻号泣声,           Gù wén hòo qì shēng,
  挥泪独不还。           Hūi lèi dú bù huān.
  “未知身死处,         “Wèi zhī shēn sǐ chù,
  何能两相完?”          Hé nēng liǎng xiāng wān?”
  驱马弃之去,           Qú mǎ qì zhī qù,
  不忍听此言。           Bù rěn tíng cī yán.
  南登霸陵岸,           Nán dēng bà líng ān,
  回首望长安。           Hūi shǒu wàng chāng ān.
  悟彼下泉人,           Wū bǐ xià quān rén,
  喟然伤心肝。           Kūi rán shāng xīn gān.

  Because the west capital is lawless,
  Jackals and tigers are perils.
  I again have to leave,
  And condescend to a job in Jingzhou.
  Relatives were sad for my leaving,
  Friends followed me not willing to part.
  I saw nothing outside the city gate,
  But white bones all over the land.
  And a hungry woman by the roadside,
  Discarding her baby into the weeds.
  I heard her desperate cry,
  She was weeping, but did not turn back.
  “I don’t know where I’ll end my life,
  How can I watch my child die with my eye!”
  I could only drive my horse forward,
  And can no longer bear such sad word.
  I then climb up the Baling bank in the south,
  And looking back at Changan.
  I then come to understand the man who wrote “Xia Quan” ,
  I sigh with a broken heart.

You can find similar lines about the scenes of refugees in the chaos of was in the poems by the rest of the “seven scholars” who encountered more or less the same situation. Such an impassioned sigh is a common feature of “Jian An” poetry.

We have to mention Ruan Ji (210-263) of the late Wei period. As the son of Ruan Yu, one of the “Seven Schalars”, Ruan Ji inclined politically to the Cao family when Sima Yi established Jin Dynasty after he killed Cao Shuang, the last ruler of Wei. Jin Dynasty exercised high coercion and punished all who opposed the Sima family. Under such circumstances, Ruan Ji studied behind closed doors, traveled, got himself drunk and kept his mouth shut about political issues. Nobody knew what his political attitude really was. Zhong Hui, a high ranking official tried many times to find out his views on state affairs, but each time Zhong came to talk to him, he was drunk. Sima Zhao, Sima Yi’s son had to try personally. But when he talked to Ruan, the latter’s words always deviated from the questions. Because of Ruan’s fame, Sima Zhao wanted his child be married to Ruan’s. Ruan could not openly oppose the marriage. Yet, when the Sima family was ready to get the bride, Ruan got himself drunk for 60 days. The Sima family had to give up the idea of the marriage. They could do nothing about him. But, Ruan’s political views were expressed implicitly in his poems. Let’s read the following one:

  二妃游江滨,              Er fēi yóu jiāng bīn,
  逍遥顺风翔。              Xiāo yáo shēn fēng xiáng.
  交甫怀环珮,              Jiáo pū huái huán pèi,
  婉娈有芬芳。              Wǎn luán yǒu fēn fāng.
  猗靡情欢爱,              Yī mí qíng huān ài,
  千载不相忘。              Qiān zǎi bù xiāng wàng.
  倾城迷下蔡,              Qǐng chēng mí xià cài,
  容好结中肠。              Róng hǎo jiē zhōng cháng.
  感激生忧思,              Gǎn jí shēng yōu sī,
  萱草树兰房。              Xuān cāo shù lán fāng.
  膏沐为谁施,              Gáo mù wèi shūi shī,
  其雨怨朝阳。              Qī yǔ yuàn zhāo yāng.
  如何金石交,              Rú hé jīn shí jiāo,
  一旦更离伤!              Yī dàn gèng lí shāng!

  Two ladies were cruising along the riverside,
  The danced freely with the wind.
  Jiaopu asked for their jade pendants,
  The ladies were so sweat and fragrant.
  His passion for them lingered,
  Never forget them, he pledged.
  Their amazingly beautiful looks that could bewilder all the people of Xiacai,
  Had certainly printed deeply in his mind.
  They felt great anxiety because of missing him,
  Xuancao grass had to be planted before their room.
  For whom should they apply their hair dressing oil?
  There was always the morning sun when they were longing for the drizzle.
  How come the gold and rock firm relation,
  Could in an instant be sadly broken!

He wrote 82 poems under the title of 《咏怀诗, Yong Huai Shi, Intonation of Mind》, and this is the second poem. The first four lines describe a story from Liu Xiang’s 《Biography of Immortals》. The two ladies are deity figures. The following eight lines were the imagination of the poet. These lines are a preparation for the last two lines. Apparently Zheng jiaopu didn’t kept his pledge. He never went to see the two ladies. The poet compared the Sima family to Zheng. The Simas were deeply trusted by the Caos, yet finally they betrayed the Caos in a most shameless way. The idea that the beauty’s good looks bewildered all the people of Xiacai is borrowed from one of Song Yu’s prose, in which Song said that when the beauty smiled, all the people of Yangcheng were obssessed and all the people of Xiacai bewildered. The reason for the two ladies to plant Xuancao grass before their rooms was that when people looked at the grass they could forget their worries. Ruan has been regarded as the representative of “Zheng Shi” literature. His works influenced Tao Yuanming, Yu Xin, Chen Ziang and Li Bai.

Zuo Si, a representative of the Tai Kang Literature, was an outstanding and bold poet of the Western Jin Dynasty. He was ugly in appearance and slow in speech, yet very diligent in his studies. It is said that he wrote five volumes of works. Unfortunately there are only two of his prose and 14 of his poems in existence today. His 《咏史, Yong Shi, Ode to History》, consisted of eight poems, has been very influential.

  郁郁涧底松,             Yù yù jiàn dǐ sōng,
  离离山上苗,             Lí lí shān shāng miǎo,
  以彼径寸茎,             Yǐ bǐ jìng cùn jìng,
  荫此百尺条。             Yīn cī bǎi chǐ tiāo.

  Luxuriant is the pine at the bottom of ravine,
  A lush growth of seedling on mountain top,
  Their inch long stems wish,
  To shade over the hundred foot long pine.

What does that mean? Zuo Si told us himself: this phenomenon is as unreasonable as the following:

 世胄蹑高位,             Shì zhòu niè gāo wèi,
 英俊沉下僚,             Yīng jùn chén xià liǎo,
 地势使之然,             Dì shì shī zhī rán,
 由来非一朝。             Yōu lái fēi yì zhāo.

  Sons of nobility occupied high positions,
  Heroes and talents are only petty official down below,
  The way the terrain goes,
  Has been like this for many mornings.

In the 7th poem when he described the frustrations of ancient talents he lashed out at the darkness of strangling talents by saying:

A painting of Zuo Si.
 何世无奇才, 遗之在草泽。
 Hé shī wú qí cāi, yí zhī zài cǎo zē.

 There hasn’t been any generation without genius,
 But they have all been thrown into swamps.

A pen incisive as such wasn’t common during his period. In the same poem, he expounded on his attitude toward life:

  贵者虽自贵,           Gùi zhē sūi zì gùi,
  视之若埃尘。           Shì zhī rǔo āi chēn.
  贱者虽自贱,           Jiàn zhē sūi zì jiàn,
  重之若千鈞。           Zhòng zhī rùo qiān jūn.

  Noble ones feel self-important,
  They may be as light as dust.
  Humble ones feel self-abased,
  They may be as heavy as a mount (tons).

There were not many good poetry after Zuo Si until the later period of the Eastern Jin Dynasties when Tao Yuanming (365-427) was born and radiated extraordinary splendor in the 

A portrait of Tao Yuanming
history of Chinese literature. Tao led a hard life since his childhood, because his father died early. He experienced much political turmoil during his teenage; he then encountered the change of dynasties and was extremely unsatisfied with the politics of the time. He was an official for four or five years; the highest position was a county magistrate. But it was impossible for him to go any higher, since he couldn’t bear the sight of dirty deals and corruption in politics and despised the rotten life of officials. He would rather live in seclusion and do some farming. He said,“代耕本非望,常所业在田桑。 To be an official wasn’t my desire, my career is in the fields.” The following poem can tell us how happy he was when he forsook the official position. Please read the preface of “Returning Back”:I am from a poor family, a family that could not provide sufficient food from farming and plantation. My home was crowded with children, there have never been enough food to feed them. I really don’t have the ability to give the family a reliable source of living. Therefore, most relatives suggested that I should try to become an official at the county. I thought naturally that his was a good idea. Yet, I couldn’t find out how to get such a position. It so happened that armed forces rose up everywhere. Warlords regarded it a virtue to show their kind favors. Given that I was so poor, my uncle recommended me to work in a small city. I was afraid to go to a far place, especially at that time tranquility hadn’t been restored. Since the city of Pengze was only a hundred li away from home, considering the grains from the public plot that was alloted to the position would be enough to cover my expenses of wine drinking, I took that position. But before long, I began to think of returning home. Why? Because my natural disposition could not allow me to act reluctantly or unnaturally. Though hunger and coldness were hard to bear, yet to do things against my will made me feel even more uneasy. When I took that post, I yielded to the needs of my stomach and body. I was very depressed, sighed with regret that what I did wasn’t in line with my life-long aspirations. I only hoped to get one harvest from the plot quickly. I would pack up and leave on the night of the harvest. I had to hurry to Wuchang to pay my last respect to my sister, who was married to the Cheng family, had passed away there. I thus deposed myself. From mid autumn to winter, I was an official for some eighty odd days. Having acted of my own will, I wrote this poem 《Returning Back》. Now it is the eleventh month of the year Yi Si (AD 405).

  归去来兮辞          Gūi Qù Lái Xī Cī

归去来兮,               Gūi qù lái xī,
田园将芜胡不归?         Tián yuān jiāng wú hú bù gūi?
既自以心为形役,         Jì zì yǐ xīn wéi xíng yì,
奚惆怅而独悲!           Xī chóu chàng ēr dú bēi!
悟已往之不谏,           wū yǐ wǎng zhī bú jiàn,
知来者之可追。           Zhī lái zhē zhī kě zhūi.
实迷途其未远,           Shí mí tú qī wèi yuǎn,
觉今是而昨非。           Jūi jīn shì ēr zúo fēi.
舟遥遥以轻飏飏           Zhōu yáo yáo yǐ qīng yáng,
风飘飘而吹衣。           Fēng piāo piāo ēr chūi yī.
问征夫以前路,           Wèn zhēng fū yǐ qiǎn lù,
恨晨光之熹微。           Hèn chēn guāng zhī xī wēi.

乃瞻衡宇,               Nǎi zhān héng yǔ,
载欣载奔。               Zāi xīn zāi bēn.
僮仆欢迎,               Tóng pǔ huān yíng,
稚子候门。               Zì zī hōu mēn.
三径就荒,               Sān jìng jiù huāng,
松菊犹存。               Sōng jǖ yōu cūn.
携幼入室,              Xié yōu rù shǐ,
有酒盈樽。              Yǒu jiǔ yíng zūn.
引壶觞以自酌,          Yǐn hú shāng yǐ zì zhūo,
眄庭柯以怡颜。          Miān tíng kē yǐ yí yān.
倚南窗以自傲,          Yī nán chuāng yǐ zì ào,
审容膝之安易。          Shěn róng xī zhī ān yì.
园日涉以成趋,          Yuán rī shè yǐ chēng qū,
门虽设而常关。          Mén sūi shè ēr chāng guān.
策扶老以流憩,          Cè fú lǎo yǐ liú qī,
时矫首而遐观。          Shí jiāo shǒu ēr xiá guān.
云无心以出岫,          Yūn wú xīn yǐ chū xiù,
鸟倦飞而知还。          Niǎo juān fēi ēr zhī huān.
景翳翳以将入,          Jǐng yì yì yǐ jiāng rù,
抚孤松而盘桓。          Fū gū sōng ēr pán huán.

A painting depicting the theme of the poem

归去来兮,              Gui qu lai xi,
请息交以绝游!          Qing xi jiao yi jue you!
世与我而相违,          Shi yu wo er xiang wei,
复驾言兮焉求?          Fu jia yan xi yan qiu?
悦亲戚之情话,          Yue qin qi zhi qing hua,
乐琴书以消忧。          Le qin shu yi xiao you.
农人告余以春及,        Nong ren gao yu yi chun ji,
将有事于西畴。            Jiang you shi yu xi chou.
或命巾车,                Hùo mìng jīn chē,
或棹孤舟。                Hùo zhūo gū zhōu.
既窈窕以寻壑,            Jì yáo tiáo yǐ xūn hè,
亦崎岖而经丘。            Yì qí qū ēr jīng qiū.
木欣欣以向荣,            Mù xīn xīn yǐ xiàng róng,
泉涓涓而始流。            Quān juān juān ēr shǐ liū.
善万物之得时,            Shàn wàn wù zhī dé shī,
感吾生之行休。            Gǎn wū shēng zhī xīng xiū.

已矣乎,                  Yǐ Yì hū,
寓形宇内复几时!          Yù xíng yǔ nèi fù jǐ shí!
曷不委心任去留,          Hé bù wēi xīn rèn qù liú,
胡为乎遑遑兮欲何之?      Hú wēi hū huāng huāng yù hé zhī?                        
富贵非吾愿,              Fù gùi fēi wū yuàn,
帝乡不可期。              Dì xiāng bù kě qī.
怀良辰以孤往,            Huāi liáng chēn yǐ gū wāng,
或植仗而耘耔。            Hùo zhí zhàng ēr yūn zǐ.
登东皋以舒啸,            Dēng dōng gǎo yǐ shú xiāo,
临清流而赋诗。            Līn qīng liú ēr fù shī.
聊乘化以归尽,            Liáo chéng hàa yǐ gūi jīn,
乐乎天命复奚疑!          Lè hū tīan mìng fū xī yí!

  Returning Back
  By Tao Yuanming

  I’m returning back,
  Shouldn’t I return when fields and garden are almost wasted?
  Since my physical needs conquered my will,
  I don’t have to feel dejected and sorrowful.
  I realize that the bygones can not be redeemed,
  I know that the forthcoming can be redressed.
  I was actually not too far on the wrong way,
  I feel I am right today but wrong yesterday.
  The light boat was bumpy and had sailed long,
  The wind was blowing up my gown.
  I asked about the distance still to cover,
  And resent the dimness at the early hour.

  At the sight of my shabby mansion,
  I started to run with pleasurable emotion.
  Servants came out to greet me,
  My child was waiting at the gateway.
  The footpath already dilapidated,
  Yet, the pine and chrysanthemum survived.
  With my child I entered into the room,
  I saw the wine vessel is full.
  Taking a cup I drank myself,
  Glancing at the woods outside I felt a sense of relief.
  Leaning on the southern window I recollected my pride,
  And reflecting on the ease there might be in the small room.
  How wonderful to walk everyday in the garden,
  And keeping the gate shut often.
  Stick in hand I could walk on or pause,
  And look up into the boundless.
  Clouds came out from the remote hills without intention,
  Tried birds knew when they should return.
  It was getting dark and things looked vague,
  With one hand on the lonely pine I still walked around.

  I am returning back,
  With those I knew there would be no more contact.
  Since in my round hole the world was a square peg,
  What was there for me to forsake home and quest?
  The cordial words in my family were so pleasing,
  Lutes and calligraphy could keep me from worrying.
  Farmers told me spring was approaching,
  In the west fields there would be ploughing.
  I could either drive a cart,
  Or row a single boat.
  In order to find a beautiful valley,
  Or climb up a hillock through the rough way.
  Trees grow to flourish,
  Water in the brook trickles to flow.
  Time is opportune for every thing in nature,
  Yet my life couldn’t be in prime for any longer.

  Ah, ha, ha!
  How long in the world could my body reside?
  Why not just follow my own clinations!
  What did I quest for in a hurried pace?
  I don’t aspire to be wealthy,
  Neither do I expect to enter the land of immortality.
  On a nice day I would go outing,
  Or put the tick aside and do some farming.
  I might climb up the eastern highland to shout with force,
  Or compose poems by the clear waters.
  I would just conform to the nature during my life-span,
  I am delighted to know and not doubtful of the mandate of  heaven.

So, he really did farming, and “talked about mulberry and flax” with farmers. That’s why Tao has always been regarded a pastoral poet, and indeed, he was the first in China who took pastoral life as an important theme in poetry. Things in the fields were so refreshing to him:

  Niǎo lòng huān xīn jié, Lìng fēng sōng yú shàn.

  So joyful at festival are the chirping birds,
  Cool breeze is still kind-hearted.

《归园田居五首, Gūi Yuán Tián Jū Wǔ Shǒu, Five Poems on Returning to Pastoral Life》 is the most famous representative work of his pastoral poetry. One of them goes:

  方宅十余亩,           Fāng zhái shí yú mǔ,
  草屋八九间。           Cāo wū bā jiǔ jiān.
  榆柳荫后檐,           Yú liǔ yīn hòu yán,
  桃李罗堂前。           Táo lǐ lōo tāng qián.
  暖暖远人村,           Nuān nuān yuǎn rén cūn,
  依依墟里烟。           Yī yī xū lǐ yān.
  狗吠深巷中,           Gǒu fèi shēn xiàng zhōng,
  鸡鸣桑树巅。           Jí míng sāng shù diān.

 On more than ten mu of land are my square houses,
  With eight or nine thatched cottages.
  Elm and willow trees give shade to rear eaves,
  Peach and plum trees stand before halls.
  Looking from afar at this warm village,
  Lingering smoke coming up from this once desolated place.
  Deep in the lanes dogs bark,
  Crowing at the top of mulberry tree is the cock.

It seemed to be a new type of life for him, he exclaimed, “I have been in the cage for too long, it’s such a delight to return to nature again.” (久在樊笼里,复得返自然.) His 《桃花源 诗并记, Tāo Hūa Yuán Shī Bìng Jì, Poem on the Springs of Peach Blossom and Related Notes》 has been widely spread. The note reads:

One day in the Taiyuan period of the Jin Dynasty (376-396), a fisherman of Wuling county was going up a river in his boat, not knowing how far he had gone. Suddenly he saw a peach forestry. There were no other trees, only the peach that went several hundred foot deep along both banks. The fisherman was astonished even more by the sweet and fresh grass and the fallen petals in riotous profusion. He kept on, intended to reach the end of the forest.
When the forest was exausted, he found the source of the river, and above the source a mountain. He then abandoned the boat and entered into the opening. The opening was extremely narrow, it could only let one person go through. However, a few dozen steps later, an open space suddenly occurred. On the vast and flat land, houses were built in an orderly way, ponds looked nice, fields seemed fertile, mulberry, bamboo and other trees grew luxuriantly. There were also foot pathes crisscrossed in the fields. Once could hear cocks crowing and dogs barking. People were busy in the fields. But the clothing of both man and women looked very strange; old people and children looked happy. They were surprised when they saw the fisherman, and asked him where he came from. After the answer was given, he was invited into one of he home and treated with wine and chicken. The villagers, when heard about the stranger, came to talk to him. They said that their ancestors came to this isolated place with their families, in order to run away from the upheaval in the Qin Dynasty. Since then none of them had ever gone out of the place. They never had any contacts with outsiders. When asked what year they were in today, they didn’t even know there was the Han Dynasty, neither did they know anything about the kingdom of Wei or the Jin Dynasty. They all sighed after the fisherman told them what had happened in the world. The villagers then invited the fisherman to their homes and provided him with wine and food. The fisherman stayed there for a few days and left. He was told at parting, “Please don’t say anything about us to outsiders.”
So, the fisherman came out, found his boat. While he was returning by the way he came, he left marks and signs. When he was back at the prefecture, he went to see the Magistrate and told him everything about the venture. The Magistrate then sent his men to see the springs with the fisherman as the guide. They went by the marks and signs the fisherman had left, but they got lost. The way to the springs was nowhere to be found. Liu Ziji of Nan Yang County, a noble person, planned to try to locate the springs when he heard about the story. He, however, died before he was able to do it. Thereafter nobody ever tried again.

  赢氏乱天际,                   Yīng shì luàn tiān jì,
  贤者避其世。                   Xián zhē bì qī shì.
  黄绮之商山,                   Huāng qí zhī shāng shān,
  伊人亦云逝。                   Yí rén yì yūn shì.
  往迹浸复湮,                   Wǎng jì jìn fù yān,
  来径遂芜废。                   Lái jìng sūi wú fèi.
  相命肆农耕,                   Xiāng mìng sì nōng gēng,
  日入从所憩。                   Rī rù cōng sūo qì.
  桑竹垂余荫,                   Sāng zhū chūi yú yīn,
  菽稷随时艺。                   Shú jì sūi shí yì.

A painting depicting the theme of “Springs of Peach Blossom”

  春蚕收长丝,                   Chūn cán shōu chāng sī,
  秋熟靡王税。                   Qiū shōu mí wáng shìi.
  荒路暧交通,                   Huāng lù ài jiāo tōng,
  鸡犬互鸣吠。                   Jī quǎn hù míng fèi.
  俎豆犹古法,                   Zǔ dòu yōu gǔ fǎ,
  衣裳无新制。                   Yī shāng wú xīn zhī
  童儒纵行歌,                   Tóng rǔ zòng xǐng gē,
  斑白欢游诣。                   Bān bái huān yōu yì.
  草荣识节和,                   Cǎo róng shí jiē hē,
  木衰知风厉。                   Mù shūai zhī fēng lì.
  虽无纪历志,                   Sūi wú jì lì zhī,
  四时自成岁。                   Sì shí zì chēng sùi.
  怡然有馀乐,                   Yí rān yǒu yú lè,
  于何劳智慧。                   Yú hé láo zhī hūi.
  奇踪隐五百,                   Qí zōng yǐn wǔ bǎi,
  一朝敞神界。                   Yī zhāo chǎng shēn jiè.
  淳薄既异源,                   Chūn bó jì yì yuān,
  旋复还幽蔽。                   Xuān fù huān yōu bì.
  借问游方士,                   Jiè wèn yóu fāng shī,
  焉测尘嚣外。                   Yán cè chēn xiāo wài.
  愿言蹑轻风,                   Yuàn yán niè qíng fēng,
  高举寻吾契。                   Gāo jǔ xūn wū qì.
  Since Ying smashed the Heavenly order,
  All virtuous men had to run for shelter.
  Hang and Qi hid themselves on the Shangshan Mountain,
  The ancestors of the people in the springs also left for a life in selusion.
  Their foo-prints had long vanished,
  The road by which they came had desolated.
  The encouraged each other fo farm,
  When sun set they all rested at home.
  The could have surplus of mulberry and bamboo,
  Five crops were sowed on time.
  In spring long silkworm threads were collected,
  In autumn no state tax was levid.
  Though wild grass covered the road,
  Yet dogs barked at the crowing cock.
  The utensils for ceremonies still looked like old ones,
  Nothing new could be found in their clothes.
  Children sang to their hearts’ content,
  The white-hired joyfully played.
  Fresh grass told them spring would come,
  Witherig tree foreboded autumn.
  Even though they had no calendar,
  Still the foru seasons were clear.
  They were happy with much pleasure,
  Gadgetry and skill were not things for them to bother.
  Hiding for over 500 years was a wonder,
  That day they opened up their legendary picture.
  Since simple, kind people and cunning, fickle men are of different origin,
  After a short appearance they returned to their seclusion.
  Let me ask all flesh and blood,
  Do you know anything outside the secular world?
  I would like to fly high with the light wind,
  To look for my bosom friend.

This poem describes for the Chinese people what an ideal society is. In such a society, there is no oppression, no exploitation; everyone is equal, human and loyal to tradition; everyone love labor and freedom. Such an ideal was a complete denial of the actual society of the time. It was also a fundamental denial of the rampantly spreading Buddhist ideas. The ideal sociey in Buddhism is the otherworld. Tao’s ideal reflects truly the human nature of Chinese culture. Those who have not read this poem, could not really comprehend Chinese culture.
Tao was also the first to write wine-drinking poems, he wrote 20 of them, and most of them have been influential. Few took notice of his poetry at his time. It was until Tang Dynasty his poems were being admired. Tang poets like Li Bai, Bai Juyi and many others held great esteem for his character and integrity; Tang poets like Meng Haoran earnestly imitated his style; Song poet Su Shi went so far as to write 111 poems to reply to Tao poems. Su Shi said, “When you first read Yuanming’s poems, you feel they are loose and slow; yet, when you read more times, you would discover a rare interest.” 

A portrait of Xie Lingyun             A painting of Xie Tiao
Before I end this chapter, I would like to mention very briefly three poets: Xie Lingyun (385-433) was the first one to concentrate on mountains and waters and since him on, there has been a school of mountain and water poetry; Xie Tiao (464-499) was remarkable in blending feelings into his description of landscape; Yu Xin (513-581) was the forerunner in “五言绝句, Wu Yan Jue Ju, Four-line Poetry of Wu Yan” and “五言律诗, Wu Yan Lu Shi, Eight-line Poetry of Wu Yan”. He influenced many Tang poets. Yu has been famous in turning out lines in describing scenery, for instance:

  荷风惊浴鸟,           Hé fēng jīng yù niǎo,
  桥影聚行鱼;           Qiāo yīng jù xíng yú;
  日落含山气,           Rī lūo hán shān qì,
  云归带雨余。           Yūn gūi dài yǔ yú.
A portrait of Yu Xin

Wind through lotus leaves startled bathing birds,
Shadow of bridge gathers swimming fish;
Sun sets with the smell of mountain,
Clouds leave with remains of rain.

After Yu Xin, there wasn’t much good poetry until the Tang Dynasty.


Previous >Part IV Yue Fu Poems