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.
A person’s life is an unreal thing, always bound to change.
Eventually, everything returns to emptiness.
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.