This life in brushwood-gate seclusion kept my days and nights utterly full

From David Hinton’s translation – The Selected Poems of T’ao Ch’ien

Elegy for Myself

It’s the late-autumn pitch-tone Wu-yi, Ting year of the hare.  The heavens are cold now, and the nights long.  Geese pass, traveling south in desolate, windswept skies.  Leaves turn yellow and fall.  I, Master T’ao, will soon leave this inn awaiting travelers, and return forever to my native home.  Everyone grieves.  Mourning together, they’ve gathered here tonight for these farewell rites.  They’re making offerings to me: elegant foods and libations of crystalline wine.  I look into their already blurred faces, listen to their voices blending away into silence.  Hu-ooo! Ai-tsai hu-ooo!

Boundless — this vast heap earth,
this bottomless heaven, how perfectly

boundless.  And among ten thousand
things born of them, to find myself

a person somehow, though a person
fated from the beginning to poverty

alone, to those empty cups and bowls,
thin clothes against winter cold.

Even hauling water brought such joy,
and I sang under a load of firewood:

this life in brushwood-gate seclusion
kept my days and nights utterly full

Spring and autumn following each other
away, there was always garden work —

some weeding here or hoeing there.
What I tended I harvested in plenty,

and to the pleasure of books, koto
strings added harmony and balance.

I’d sun in winter to keep warm,
and summers, bathe in cool streams.

Never working more than hard enough,
I kept my heart at ease always,

and whatever came, I rejoiced in all
heaven made of my hundred-year life.

Nothing more than this hundred-year
life — and still, people resent it.

Afraid they’ll never make it big,
hoarding seasons, they clutch at

days, aching to be treasured alive
and long remembered in death.  Alone,

alone and nothing like them, I’ve
always gone my own way.  All their

esteem couldn’t bring me honor, so
how can mud turn me black? Resolute

here in my little tumbledown house,
I swilled wine and scribbled poems.

Seeing what fate brings, our destiny
clear, who can live without concern?

But today, facing this final change,
I can’t find anything to resent:

I lived a life long and, cherishing
solitude always, abundant.  Now

old age draws to a close, what more
could I want? Hot and cold pass

away and away. And absence returns,
something utterly unlike presence.

My wife’s family came this morning,
and friends hurried over tonight.

They’ll take me out into the country,
bury me where the spirit can rest

easy.  O dark journey.  O desolate
grave, gate opening into the dark

unknown.  An opulent coffin Huan’s
disgrace, Yang’s naked burial a joke,

it’s empty — there’s nothing in death
but the empty sorrows of distance.

Build no gravemound, plant no trees —
just let the days and months pass

away. I avoided it my whole life,
so why invite songs of praise now?

Life is deep trouble. And death,
why should death be anything less?

Hu-ooo! Ai-tsai hu-ooo!

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