Drinking Wine (Poem No. 5) by Tao Yuan-ming
Translation by Alice Cheang
I built my hut among the homes of men,
Yet I hear no din of carriage or horse.
You ask: "How can this be?" I say:
When the mind is detached, the place too grows remote.
I pick chrysanthemums beside the eastern hedge,
And South Mountain looms hazily before my eyes.
The mountain air is marvelous at dusk,
Birds on the wing flock home in pairs.
Somewhere in this lies the meaning of truth:
I would explain— only I've forgotten the words.

 

Notes on Tao Yuan-ming (East Jin Dynasty poet)

Known as a recluse in his own day, Tao Yuan-ming (365-427) has since won his place as the best-loved poet of China’s medieval period (the Six Dynasties, third to sixth century) as well as the greatest poet living before the golden age of the Tang (seventh to tenth century). Like most educated men, Tao entered upon a career in government, but soon gave it up because it interfered with his personal taste for freedom; no doubt he also wished to escape the dangers with which political life was fraught during this turbulent era. He spent the rest of his life as a farmer, living by the fruits of his own toil and reflecting the hardships and rewards of this life in his poetry. It was the first time that anyone had ever embodied mundane real-life experience in his writings. In the transparently autobiographical “The Life of Master Five Willows,” Tao speaks of the joys of embracing the simple life—to him poverty was in itself liberating—and his love of wine. Wine represents transcendence over worldly concerns, and in the drunken state a man may speak freely..