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Tao Yuanming: His Work

Tao Yuanming: His Work

Tao Yuanming wrote many poems, but only about 143 of them have survived the centuries for us to read. Some of them are grouped together to make 69 titles in all. Tao’s poems are created in a style that not only was his own, but as a reaction away from what was modern and popular at the time: fancy and elegant court poetry. Much of this poetry was loud and martial in nature. It also embedded images of fantasy and flying immortals. For us in the twenty-first century this makes his poems somewhat easier for us to understand than Tao’s contemporaries. They had the characteristics of zhuo and jianlian.

Tao wrote many poems about his family and friends, but unlike most of the poets to follow him, he did not write most of them with, or for them as gifts or replies. Tao Yuanming has only one extant poem that he wrote for his wife. For ancient China this is not unusual. But he did write several poems for and about his sons, cousins, and sister.

The scenery and landscapes he wrote about were not necessarily famous, but what was close at hand and liked by him. Tao did not write quickly nor spontaneously, which tended to make his techniques more hidden and less transparent. He did not spend much time or energy on rhyme, implicit vocabulary, or literary allusions like many others.

Tao’s poems were not known for being descriptive. He sparingly used adjectives of color, size and shape (pingdan and zhi). His style was that of the natural, oral language, especially the idioms used by farmers and common people (tianjia). Because the Eastern Jin Dynasty lost the provinces to the north and west, the capital had to be moved into southern landscapes that were more beautiful, sensual and relaxed (xiaohui). The poetry of the times reflected this shift as well.

Over the years Chinese critics and biographers have used the following words to describe the work of Tao Yuanming:

 zhuo: which means dull, unskilled and awkward (provincial); nothing special as in the Way of Laozi

简 练 jianlian: concise and pithy; simple vocabulary

消 极 xiaoji: inactive and passive; my part in the universe is very small and insignificant (his later poems)

平 淡 pingdan: insipid and prosaic (common and everyday); thin and spare

 zhi: simple and natural; essence, quality, substance

田 家 tianjia: words used by farmers and their families

妙 辉 miaohui: very visual, soft, clean, beautiful

Themes that appear and reappear in Tao Yuanming’s poetry include:

* moral integrity and moral simplicity
* live a life of idleness, simplicity and leisure
* no need for fame or display
* enjoy life: drink wine, write poetry, make music, listen to your youngest               child learn to talk
* the inevitability of life and death, everything is changing from one form               to another
* can only leave behind good words, deeds and virtue
* within Nature we play a small and insignificant part
* life is a gathering together and harmony of body-shadow-spirit
* virtue will probably go unrecognized and forgotten, but do it just to do it
Ziran, or Nature, is naturally free, yet balanced
* human affairs follow the same patterns as Nature
* follow your heart’s intent
* living a good life is possible within the chaos, insanity and danger of a                  human-made world
* the good life is being self-sufficient and in rural seclusion
* the enjoyment of being in a place to create poetry and music

Major motifs mentioned in his poems:

1. Wine: 28 poems
2. Philosophy: 28 poems
3. Family and Friends: 26 poems
4. Passage of Time: 24 poems
5. Simplicity and Poverty: 23 poems
6. Farming: 23 poems
7. Historical and Personal Heroes: 22 poems
8. Seclusion: 19 poems
9. Principles: 19 poems
10. Death: 18 poems
11. Nature Analogies: 13 poems

未经允许不得转载:STUDY IN CHINA GLOBAL (SCG) » Tao Yuanming: His Work
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