I forgot to be unflagging, content to have my daily drink.

From The Poetry of T’ao Ch’ien (Hightower translation – though there’s also a more recent and easily available one by David Hinton):

Trees in Bloom
In ‘Trees in Bloom’ I am mindful of approaching old age. Days and months prod one another along, and already now it is summertime. When I wore my hair as a child, I was instructed in the doctrines of Confucius. Today, white haired, I have accomplished nothing.

Brightly shine the blooming trees,
They have taken root right here.
their blossoms radiant this morning
By night already they have died.
Human life is like a visit;
There comes a time of decrepitude.
In silence, very much I brood,
By this my inmost heart is grieved.

Brightly shine the blooming trees
Right here where they have taken root.
This morning blossoms in profusion
No longer there, alas, this evening.
Steadfast or pliant depends on the man,
For fortune or trouble there is no gate.
On what rely, if not the Way?
For what to strive, if not the good?

Ah, like a little child am I
So crude in manners, lacking polish.
The passing years have flowed away,
And nothing added to my stock.
I forgot to be unflagging,
Content to have my daily drink.
What I carry here inside
Is worry and an inner guilt.

The Former Teacher left the message,
One that I may not forget:
‘If he’s still unknown at forty
That’s no one you need respect.’
Grease my carriage wheel for me
Whip up my famous racing horses —
A thousand miles is far to go,
But how dare I not make the trip?

By Confucius’ tally I unfortunately have still over a handful of years left before I’m freed from needing to worry about anyone respecting me.

Since my youth I have loved books and have had a predilection for quiet

From The Poetry of T’ao Ch’ien (translator Hightower, Oxford 1970 – though good luck finding a copy). For some reason while I mostly ignore the biographical traditions of the western classics, I’m always genuinely charmed by the sketches of eastern authors. First here is the autobiographical piece translated as The Gentleman of the Five Willow Trees:

I don’t know where this gentleman was born and I am not sure of his name, but beside his house were five willow trees, from which he took his nickname. He was of a placid disposition and rarely spoke. He had no envy of fame or fortune. He was fond of reading, without puzzling greatly over difficult passages. When he came across something to his liking he would be so delighted he would forget his meals. By nature he like wine, but being poor could not always come by it. Knowing the circumstances, his friends and relatives would invite him over when they had wine. He could not drink without emptying his cup, and always ended up drunk, after which he would retire, unconcerned about what might come. He lived alone in a bare little hut which gave no adequate shelter against rain and sun. His short coat was torn and patched, how cooking pots were frequently empty, but he was unperturbed. He used to write poems for his own amusement, and in them can be seen something of what he thought. He had no concern for worldly success, and so he ended his days.

And from his Testament to his sons:

Since my youth I have loved books and have had a predilection for quiet. When I opened a scroll and found something to my liking, I would be so delighted I would forget mealtime; and when I watched the trees weaving their shade and heard the birds changing their song with the season, I was filled with joy. Lying under the north window in the fifth or sixth month with an intermittent cool breeze coming through, it seemed to me that I was living in the time of the sage Emperor Fu-hsi.

From the preface to poem 62, here titled The Return:

Because of my poverty an uncle offered me a job in a small town, but he region was still unquiet and I trembled at the thought of going away from homme. However, P’eng-tse was only thirty miles from my native place, and the yield of the fields assigned the magistrate was sufficient to keep me in wine, so I applied for the office. Before many days had passed, I longed to give it up and go back home. Why, you may ask. Because my instinct is all for freedom, and will not brook discipline or restraint. Hunger and cold may be sharp, but this going against myself really sickens me. Whenever I have been involved in official life I was mortgaging myself to my mouth and belly, and the realization of this greatly upset me. I was deeply ashamed that I had so compromised my principles, but I was still going to wait out the year, after which I might pack up my clothes and slip away at night.

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!