Chinese 323 Home and the Return (2)

Tao Qian/T'ao Ch'ien (365-427)

"The Return"

I was poor, and what I got from farming was not enough to support my family. The house was full of children, the rice-jar was empty, and I could not see any way to supply the necessities of life. Friends and relatives kept urging me to become a magistrate, and I had at last come to think I should do it, but there was no way for me to get such a position. At the time I happened to have business abroad and made a good impression on the grandees as a conciliatory and humane sort of person. Because of my poverty an uncle offered me a job in a small town, but the region was still unquiet and I trembled at the thought of going away from home. However, Pengze was only thirty miles from my native place, and the yield of the fields assigned the magistrate was sufficient to keep me in wine, so I applied for the office. Before many days had passed, I longed to give it up and go back home. Why, you may ask. Because my instinct is all for freedom, and will not brook discipline or restraint. Hunger and cold may be sharp, but this going against myself really sickens me. Whenever I have been involved in official life I was mortgaging myself to my mouth and belly, and the realization of this greatly upset me. I was deeply ashamed that I had so compromised my principles, but I was still going to wait out the year, after which I might pack up my clothes and slip away at night. Then my sister who had married into the Cheng family died in Wuchang, and my only desire was to go there was quickly as possible. I gave up my office and left of my own accord. From mid-autumn to winter I was altogether some eighty days in office, when events made it possible for me to do what I wished. I have entitled my piece "The Return"; my preface is dated the eleventh moon of the year yisi (405).


To get out of this and go back home!

My fields and garden will be overgrown with weeds--I must go back.

It was my own doing that made my mind my body's slave

Why should I go on in melancholy and lonely grief?

I realize that there's no remedying the past

But I know that there's hope in the future.

After all I have not gone far on the wrong road

And I am aware that what I do today is right, yesterday wrong.

My boat rocks in the gentle breeze

Flap, flap, the wind blows my gown;

I ask a passer-by about the road ahead,

Grudging the dimness of the light at dawn.

Then I catch sight of my cottage--

Filled with joy I run.

The servant boy comes to welcome me

My little son waits at the door.

The three paths are almost obliterated

But pines and chrysanthemums are still here.

Leading the children by the hand I enter my house

Where there is a bottle filled with wine.

I draw the bottle to me and pour myself a cup;

Seeing the trees in the courtyard brings joy to my face.

I lean on the south window and let my pride expand,

I consider how easy it is to be content with a little space.

Every day I stroll in the garden for pleasure,

There is a gate there, but it is always shut.

Cane in hand I walk and rest

Occasionally raising my head to gaze into the distance.

The clouds aimlessly rise from the peaks,

The birds, weary of flying, know it is time to come home.

As the sun's rays grow dim and disappear from view

I walk around a lonely pine tree, stroking it.


Back home again!

My friendships be broken off and my wandering come to an end.

The world and I shall have nothing more to do with one another.

If I were again to go abroad, what should I seek?

Here I enjoy honest conversation with my family

And take pleasure in books and cither to dispel my worries.

The farmers tell me that now spring is here

There will be work to do in the west fields.

Sometimes I call for a covered cart

Sometimes I row a lonely boat

Following a deep gully through the still water

Or crossing the hill on a rugged path.

The trees put forth luxuriant foliage,

The spring begins to flow in a trickle.

I admire the seasonableness of nature

And am moved to think that my life will come to its close.

It is all over--

So little time are we granted human form in the world!

Let us then follow the inclinations of the heart:

Where would we go that we are so agitated?

I have no desire for riches

And no expectation of Heaven.

Rather on some fine morning to walk alone

Now planting my staff to take up a hoe,

Or climbing the east hill and whistling long

Or composing verses beside the clear stream:

So I manage to accept my lot until the ultimate homecoming.

Rejoicing in Heaven's command, what is there to doubt?


"Returning to the Farm to Dwell: Five Poems"




From early days I have been at odds with world;

My instinctive love is hills and mountains.

By mischance I fell into the dusty net

And was thirteen years away from home.

The migrant bird longs for its native grove.

The fish in the pond recalls the former depths.

Now I have cleared some land to the south of town,

Simplicity intact, I have returned to farm.

The land I own amounts to a couple of acres

The thatched-roof house has four or five rooms.

Elms and willows shade the eaves in back,

Peach and plum stretch out before the hall.

Distant villages are lost in haze,

Above the houses smoke hangs in the air.

A dog is barking somewhere in the hidden lane,

A cock crow from the top of a mulberry tree.

My home remains unsoiled by worldly dust

Within bare rooms I have my peach of mind.

For long I was a prisoner in a cage

And now I have my freedom back again.




Here in the country human contacts are few

On this narrow lane carriages seldom come.

In broad daylight I keep my rustic gate closed,

From the bare rooms all dusty thoughts are banned.

From time to time through the tall grass

Like me, village farmers come and go;

When we meet we talk of nothing else

Than how the hemp and mulberry are growing.

Hemp and mulberry grow longer every day

Every day the fields I have plowed are wider;

My constant worry is that frost may come

And my crops will wither with the weeds.




I planted beans below the southern hill

The grass flourished, but bean sprouts were few.

I got up at dawn to clear away the weeds

And come back now with the moon, hoe on shoulder.

Tall bushes crowd the narrow path

And evening dew soaks my clothes.

Wet clothes are no cause for complaint

If things will only go as hoped.




For long I left the joys of hills and lakes

Deprived of the pleasures of woods and fields.

Today I led my children and their cousins

And made a path to a deserted town.

We walked around among the grave mounds

And lingered by a dwelling from the past.

There were traces of the well and fireplace

And dry bamboo and stumps of mulberry trees.

I asked the man who gathered firewood there,

"Where are the people who used to live here?"

The gatherer of firewood answered me

"Dead and gone, none of them are left."

In one lifetime court and market change--

This in truth is not an idle saying.

Man's life is like a conjurer's illusion,

That reverts in the end to empty nothing.




Depressed, I come back alone, staff in hand,

Up and down the path that twists through bushes.

The mountain brook runs clear and shallow--

It will serve to wash my feet.

At home I strain the new-brewed wine,

Prepare a fowl, and call my neighbors.

As the sun sets, the room grows dark

A torch will do in place of candles.

When happy, we regret the night is short,

And the day has dawned already.


"Returning to My Former Residence"


One time long ago I lived in Shang-ching,

Six years, while I was in and out of town.

And now today I have come back again

Unhappy at finding so many depressing things.

The dykes between the fields are as they were,

But there are many changes in the town.

I walk around the place I used to live--

Few of the old people next door are left.

Step by step I look for relics of the past,

Lingering with affection over some.

During the flowing illusion of our lives

Hot and cold daily alternate.

My constant fear is that the Great Change come

Before the decline of my vital energy.

I shall try to put such thoughts aside

While I still can lift a cup of wine.


Meng Jiao/Meng Chiao (751-814)

"Ballad of a Wanderer in Chang'an"


Ten days-- fix my hair just once,

Each time I combed it, dust of travel flew.

Three weeks-- nine times drank too much,

Each time I eat, it's only the usual poor fare.

For all things the time has come,

I alone am unaware of spring.

Who will visit me now that my good name's lost?

Successful, they're busy making friends with each other.

In straight trees are found contented wings,

By tranquil streams are no bothersome scales.

Now I know that this land of raucous contention

Is no place for a good man's body.

For a staff on the plains, bamboo and rattan are light,

For mountain vegetables, fern and bracken are fresh.

Tao Qian sang, "Let's go home,"

Beyond the world's troubles, the landscape is pure.


(Stephen Owen, Poetry of Meng Chiao and Han Yü, p. 57.)


Han Yu (768-824)

"Spending the Night at Dragon-Palace Rapids"


Vast, wild, and rolling waters,

The more you repress the rapids' sound, the more it wells.

The rushing current seems stirred lightning,

The frightening waves are like floating frost.

Waking from dream, a halo around my lamp,

At night's end when the rain brings on the cold.

What were the words it spoke until dawn?--

Half were of longing for home.


(Stephen Owen, The Poetry of Meng Chiao and Han Yü, pp. 110-1.)


Gao Qi/Kao Ch'i (1336-1374)

"Hearing Rain in the Night, and Thinking of the Flowers in My Garden at Home"


The imperial city, and spring rains seeing out the last of the spring;

A night of rain. I hear it sadly; the traveller's pillow is cold.

Don't go as far as my garden at home, and make all those flowers fall--

Leave one branch of blooms 'til I can return and see it.


(F.W. Mote, The Poet Kao Ch'i, pp. 159-60.)


Liu Hengkui/Liu Heng-k'uei (1955- )

"No sooner had I come back to Portland in the year bingzi (1996) than I began to hope to return home. I tried in the year dingchou (1997), but the plan fell through. My heart ached, and often I could not sleep. Thus, I style myself "Erbin," or "Guest Both Ways," and compose a hepta-syllabic quatrain. "Erbin" reflects grieving and scorning of myself for being nothing but a floating stranger on both sides of the ocean. It is hoped that I can replace "Erbin" with "Yibin," or "With Elegant Balance," when I can return home. "Erbin" and "Yibin" are homophones in my language, Korean."


Human efforts have been exhausted, yet the sky is even farther,

Borderless ocean where stars scatter is dark and chill.

A double-layered floater styles himself "Guest Both Ways."

He just has to call a foreign land home?