At first glance, the poetry of the reclusive scholar T'ao Ch'ien seems like a layman's simple affirmation of Daoist life in the country. But even though T'ao Ch'ien feels he has chosen the right principles for himself, his poetry contains a definite tension: the weather threatens the crops, often he lacks bare necessities, his family is unhappy with his decision and he himself still longs for the old world. The essential Daoist text, the Tao Te Ching, with its many injunctions and advice on how to be a proper sage, promises that the Way will provide if only it is followed. T'ao Ch'ien's material circumstances seem like an eyesore in that light, but throughout his poetry T'ao Ch'ien uses natural imagery, metaphors of drunkenness, and other literary techniques to illustrate how he is able to detach himself from worldly sorrows and cares and achieve an understanding of the Way.
[...] Even if his instinctive love is for a life close to nature, there are elements of nature which make life difficult and uncomfortable for him and his family. For example, in “Biography of the Gentleman of the Five Willows,” the gentleman's house “does not shelter him from wind and (73). The tension it causes him to deal with hardship would have been harder for his family, who depended on him and had less choice in the matter. This would have been true of his wife especially. [...]
[...] Thus T'ao Ch'ien makes it clear that he intends to stay pure (by being far away from what is far away from the way, so to speak): “dusty thoughts are banned” (Returning to the Farm, II 4). He creates a poetic logic in which the ideal is to obtain distance from the conventional world, to obtain distance then is to stay clean and pure, because the world is symbolized as unclean or even muddy, or full of dirt. T'ao Ch'ien does not try to justify one choice of life over the other solely through logic. [...]
[...] But no matter how much he seeks to do his part and let things take care of themselves, he is acutely aware of his condition and the risks his poverty brings him into. Crop failure is not the only trouble T'ao Ch'ien must face. He is Confucian by training and has just returned from thirteen years in government service of which he says mischance I fell into the dusty (Returning I 3). T'ao Ch'ien also tells readers that instinctive love is hills and mountains” but in other poems he seems to have quite a different instinctive yearning, for his career days which he just described as a dusty net. [...]
[...] The poems of T'ao Ch'ien revolve around themes of distancing oneself from convention, desire and regret, and use literary imagery and devices to create a distance which allows the author to gain peace of mind in living out his Daoist ideals of simple rustic life and reclusion. Works Cited Lao Tsu. Tao Te Ching. New York: Knopf Trans. Jane English and Gia Fu-Feng. T'ao Ch'ien. Reply to Secretary Kuo.” Chinese Poetry: An Anthology of Major Modes and Genres. Durham: Duke University Press Trans. [...]
[...] He then ends his poem with a wish to join people of this kind. There is no hint of irony in the statement or any reminder of the fact that he is living in an attempt at a Daoist community which is not working out perfectly. This is because “Peach Blossom Spring” can be read as a response to the tension the poet must deal with. In the prose version the fisherman who discovers the community does not stay but choses to go back to town and report his sighting to the magistrate (probably in the hopes of a monetary reward). [...]
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