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Tao Yuanming: Drinking Wine No. 5

This first post of Learning Ancient Chinese Poetry (LAC Poetry) highlights a poem from the East Jin Dynasty (317-420 AD) poet Tao Yuanming (365-427 AD). Many of the famous poets following Tao considered him like the grandfather of Chinese poetry. His work, and this poem specifically, are referred to many times during the later dynasties.  Lines within his poems have been elevated to metaphor and allusion status by his admirers. Discussion of his life, times and work will follow in another post.

The early plan of this website is to publish a few important and influential poems written by a number of important and influential poets throughout mostly the Tang and Song Dynasties. The first part will be the poem in Chinese characters (Hanzi).  Next, the characters will be converted into Pinyin, a system using English letters, and then the English translation.  These early poems will have more commentary than the ones to follow due to their importance or complexity.  Except for the poet’s names, words in italics will be Chinese words in their Pinyin form.

[updated September 2022]

Drinking Wine: No. 5

饮 酒: 其 五
结 庐 在 人 境
而 无 车 马 喧.
问 君 何 能 尔?
心 远 地 自 偏.
采 菊 东 篱 下
悠 然 见 南 山.
山 气 日 夕 佳
飞 鸟 相 与 还.
此 中 有 真 意
欲 辨 已 忘 言.


Yin Jiu: Qi Wu

Jie lu zai ren jing
Er wu che ma xuan
Wen jun he neng ni?
Xin yuan di zi pian

Cai ju dong li xia
You ran jian nan shan
Shan qi ri xi jia
Fei niao xiang you huan

Ci zhong you zhen yi
Yu bian yi wang yan.

Drinking Wine: No. 5

Finished building my small house within the sphere of human activities
Without the noises of horses and carriages.I hear you ask, “Why would you do this?”
My heart and mind secluded in this remote area.

Gathering chrysanthemums below the eastern fence
Leisurely and carefree, within the sight of the Southern Mountains.   Sunset on the mountain mists make a beautiful glow
Flying birds come back together.

Within this natural scene lies the artistic mood necessary for creation, and the real meaning of the Dao
When approaching the end of discrimination and analysis, words are forgotten.



It is believed that this poem was written sometime after 408 AD when Tao‘s family house completely burned down.  This poem is the fifth in a series of twenty under the title: Drinking Wine.  And yes, Tao was very fond of drinking wine.

Tao Yuanming, in the first four lines, tells us that when moving into another house, he did not choose to move into a used one, but rather built a new one.  This house was built within, but at the edge of human activities, away from the dust and din of the city. So his small and humble dwelling, like his heart and mind, is not in the mainstream of society, but at the edge. Even though he is physically within the city, and human activities, his heart and mind are secluded. One can live a life of reflection and centered contemplation even though one lives among the community. Horses and carriages carry the aristocrats and government officials into and out of the city. He wants nothing to do with them or their work. He chose a simple and rural life.

A heart and mind secluded in a remote area expresses the Chinese word yinju, which literally means to withdraw from society and live in rural solitude. This is an expression often used by many of the Chinese poets and painters following Tao Yuanming. He has chosen not to live in total seclusion, but as a kind of a half-recluse.

The fifth through eighth lines are expressions of the carefree and leisurely lifestyle pursued and cultivated by Tao Yuanming. For him, spending one’s time picking flowers and watching the movements of the wildlife during a beautiful sunset is preferable over a life of worry and struggle serving the Emperor. It is a life of ziran, of living close to nature and inside spontaneity , practicing the Daoist principle of wuwei, of letting things come and go on their own.

The final two lines begin with the key concept of yijing. It means the intentional creation of the artistic mood necessary for artistic conception. It is found throughout the history of Chinese poetry and the arts.

The forgetting, or losing, of distinctions and analysis is a key component in the philosophy of Zhuangzi. In order for a person to be one with the Dao, one must forget the distinctions between things, people, events and thoughts. The task of knowledge in the conventional, ordinary sense is to make distinctions, to know the differences between things. To forget these distinctions is to discard knowledge, that is, to discard the agreed upon, conventional knowledge. Then the question is, what remains? What one has is the uncarved block, the great wholeness. Zhuangzi writes extensively on the method of forgetting distinctions. The state of having-no knowledge is one of original ignorance, as in the Garden of Eden. Whereas that of having no-knowledge comes only after one has passed through a prior stage of having knowledge. So the first state is that of innocence (William Blake wrote about it in his Songs of Innocence), followed by the stage of conventional knowledge (Blake’s Songs of Experience), and then the last state is achieved when this knowledge is forgotten. Such as when the doors of perception are cleansed, then everything appears as it is, infinite. This return, or going back, to the Garden is evidence of a very different consciousness than the original, first time situation.

A famous line from one of Zhuangzi’s Inner Chapters: “When the fish has been caught, one forgets the net. When the rabbit has been trapped, one can forget the snare. And when the Truth has been caught using language, then one can forget the words.”

Tao Yuanming’s poem takes the reader to the verge of, on the approach of, ending discrimination and analysis. Then the last line hands over to the reader the mood necessary to complete the poem on his or her own, and then to live a life of creation and harmony.

This picture below was painted by a friend of my wife and I.  He has been painting Chinese calligraphy (shufa) for over 70 years now.  It was written in the old and traditional way: first character is in the upper right-hand corner.  Read down and then move to the left.

未经允许不得转载:STUDY IN CHINA GLOBAL (SCG) » Tao Yuanming: Drinking Wine No. 5
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