归园田居·其四    Returning to Dwell in Fields and Gardens, No.4

陶渊明             (Author: Tao Yuanming, 4th century)

久去山泽游,long leave mountain water/lake travel
浪莽林野娱。unrestrained reckless forest field pleasure
试携子侄辈,for the moment take son nephew generation
披榛步荒墟。break luxuriant grass and wood walk deserted ruins
徘徊丘垄间,wander linger tomb among
依依昔人居。think of past person reside
井灶有遗处,well kitchen have leftover place
桑竹残杇株。mulberry bamboo incomplete scribble trunk of a tree

借问采薪者,borrow ask pick firewood person
此人皆焉如?this person all question word go to
薪者向我言,firewood person towards me say
死没无复余.   die submerge/die no again leftover
一世异朝市,one generation different morning city
此语真不虚。this word really not in vain
人生似幻化,person life similar to magical/unreal change
终当归空无。eventually should return emptiness no



It’s been a long time since I left the court,
To travel among the mountains and lakes,
Free to enjoy myself in forests and fields.
And now I’ve brought the next generation with me,
To blaze trails with axes and walk in deserted ruins.
To wander among the tombs,
And think of the people who lived here before.
We can still see traces of their kitchens and wells.
And what’s left of their mulberry and bamboo groves.

We ask a woodcutter where everyone has gone.
And he tells me they’ve all died.
No one survived.
In one generation, the whole world can change.
Believe me.
A person’s life is an unreal thing, always bound to change.
Eventually, everything returns to emptiness.


Translation Note:

This is a very different sort of Fields and Gardens poem. It has the requisite features: a departure from the busy world of the court to live a contemplative, rural life, an emphasis on a simple, natural setting, and a sense of the ineffable, but it also introduces new elements to considerable effect. Children (“the next generation”) make a rare appearance in a Fields and Gardens poem; although they don’t speak, their presence heightens the poem’s dramatic impact. When the woodcutter says that everyone has died, he introduces the specter of death and eventual “emptiness” not just to a world weary middle aged man, but also to the young and presumably innocent. The result is a much greater sense of vulnerability and loss. In addition, the poet’s primary focus is on the remains of everyday human existence, rather than on natural objects. This choice produces a similar effect; the feeling of loss is immediate, close, and pitiable.

In the last line of the first stanza, the words 残杇株 can be interpreted a number of ways. We believe that within the context of the poem, the words mean “withered tree branches” or “what remained of the trees.” It is significant that the line referencing mulberry and bamboo comes immediately after the traces of wells and kitchens, as mulberry and bamboo are domestic crops used for silk production, food, and construction. We introduced the word “grove” to suggest that these cultivated crops once grew in large numbers and were not random growths. The penultimate line of the second stanza states that a person’s life is “unreal.” Although the word 幻化 also may be translated as “magical,” doing so would have given the impression that life is beautiful or wonderful. The word 幻化 in this poem is used to reference a Buddhist notion of life being insubstantial and illusory. The Eastern Jin dynasty faced constant military threat from the North as well as domestic riots and peasant revolutions. As a result, life was precarious during this period, and there was no safety from attack even in the remote countryside.

秋风辞      Autumn Wind Song

汉武帝 (Author:  Emperor Wu of Han,  2nd century BC)

秋风起兮白云飞, autumn wind rise connection word white cloud fly
草木黄落兮雁南归。grass tree yellow fall connection word geese south return
兰有秀兮菊有芳, orchid have elegant connection word chrysanthemum have fragrance
怀佳人兮不能忘。 think of beautiful woman connection word no can forget
泛楼船兮济汾河, float building ship connection word cross Fen river
横中流兮扬素波。 cross middle flow connection word raise white wave
箫鼓鸣兮发棹歌, bamboo flute drum sound connection word sing paddle song
欢乐极兮哀情多。 happy happy to the extreme connection word sorrow feelings many
少壮几时兮奈老何!young strong how much time connection word deal with old question word



The autumn wind rises and sends white clouds flying
The grass and the trees have yellowed, and the geese flown south.
Orchids and chrysanthemums are fragrant and elegant.
I think of a beautiful woman I will never forget.

As my flagship crosses the Fen river.
We raise white waves navigating the channel.
Flutes and drums sound; the oarsmen burst into song.
Great happiness can lead to great sorrow.
Oh, how much time we had when we were young?
How can we deal with growing old?


Translation note:

This poem was written by Emperor Wu of Han, a brilliant and ambitious emperor of the Han Dynasty. Emperor Wu is known for his military expansion during his reign, as well as his patronage of musical and poetic arts. It is said that he wrote this poem during his 40s, when he travelled to Shanxi province to worship the deity of deep earth and soil. During his trip, he received a message that his army had just won a victory on their mission to conquer the south. This poem was therefore written during a time when his empire was strong and his personal power seemed unlimited. The last sentence of the poem contrasted his seemingly unlimited early power with the fact that he wouldn’t be able to stop time and prevent himself from getting old. That’s probably the reason why he seemed to be abusing his power during his later reign — he put his quest for the elixir of immortality ahead of his subjects’ well being. He even married off one of his daughters to a magician who promised to find the magic elixir. The frustrated emperor later executed his son-in-law for failure to fulfill this promise.