A Poem by T’ao Ch’ien.

I happened on an old post and discovered the main link was dead; fortunately I was able to find a current URL for the site (Brunel University’s e-journal EnterText), and while adding links for the articles I mentioned in my post I decided I liked the translation in J. Gill Holland’s “Teasing out an English Translation from a Classical Chinese Poem: with a translation from T’ao Ch’ien” enough I’d give it its own post:

Wine Poem No. 1

The traffic where I built is terrible
but I don’t hear a thing, not a cart or a horse.

You ask me, “How can that be?”
When the heart is far away, nobody is at home.

I pick never-die ’mums by the hedge to the east
and keep an eye on South Mountain.

At dusk its mountain air makes me promises.
Birds flock in homeward flight.

There was something true in all of this,
but when I started to explain, I’d already lost the words.

The poet’s name is now usually spelled Tao Qian, and in fact he’s usually known as Tao Yuanming (Chinese literary names are complicated), but of course I preserve the spelling of my source.


  1. I had to look up “mums”. I’ve only heard “chrysanths”.

    Maybe they grow es in the O of former Czechoslovakia.

  2. Interesting; I wonder what the geographical spread of the colloquial terms for chrysanthemums is.

  3. Lars (the original one) says

    Steady the smoke of the half-deserted village,
    A dog barks somewhere in the deep lanes,
    A cock crows at the top of the mulberry tree.

    (From Tao Qian’s Return to the Field, tr. Arthur Waley(?))

  4. minus273 says

    Very readable Englishing.

    The 心遠地自偏 line is wrong, though. The other translations the guy cited are correct, but are of course not very comprehensible given that they’re close translations: “the place of itself is distant”; “one’s place becomes remote”. If one goes paraphrasing, it’s rather like “whenever your heart’s far away, you automatically live in a faraway place (so you don’t hear the cars honking).”

  5. A dog barks somewhere in the deep lanes

    Lovely! I’ve added it to the thread.

  6. J.W. Brewer says

    As a blow against Mandarin-supremacism, maybe there could be a grassroots internet campaign boosting Tô Tsiâm as the standard latinized spelling. Or Tô Ian-bîng, if you prefer his original name.

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