Translation of Tao Yuan-ming’s
THE PEACH BLOSSOM SPRING
In the Tai-yuan period of the Chin dynasty, a fisherman of Wu-ling was making his way up a stream, paying no attention to the distance he had traveled. Suddenly he came upon a grove of peach trees in blossom. For hundreds of yards along the stream, nothing but peach trees. The ground was covered with fragrant herbs and strewn with fallen flowers.
The fisherman kept on going to see how far the peach grove went. Finally, at the foot of a mountain, he found the spring from which the stream came gushing forth. Then he saw an opening in the mountain, from which a light appeared. Curious, he left his boat and ventured into the cave, which was very narrow, barely wide enough to squeeze through.
But after a while it opened onto a wide and level plain. Impressive houses stood amidst rich fields and beautiful ponds, with thickets of mulberry trees and bamboo. Dogs barked and cocks crowed to one another. Paths criss-crossed the fields, with men and women going back and forth, planting and working. They were dressed strangely, like foreigners. Old folks and children were playing and having fun.
When they saw the fisherman they were quite surprised, and asked him where he came from. Having answered their questions, he was invited to one of their homes, where they served him wine and killed a chicken for dinner. When the other villagers heard about him, they came to visit.
The people told the fisherman how their ancestors, fleeing troubles in the time of Qin, brought wives and children to this distant place, and never came out again. They had lost all touch with those outside. They asked him what had happened in the world. They had never heard of the Han dynasty, much less of the Wei and Chin. The fisherman told them as best he could, one thing after another. They all sighed with sorrow and wonder.
Others invited him to their houses, regaling him with food and wine. Finally after several days he took his leave. Saying goodbye, the people said, “Please don’t mention us to those outside.”
Emerging once more, he found his boat. All the way back he carefully noted every place he passed. Reaching the capital of the prefecture, he went to the magistrate and told his story. The magistrate promptly dispatched a man to go with him. They sought out the places he remembered, but got confused and never found the way.
A high-minded scholar, Liu Tzu-chi of Nanyang, heard about it and joyfully made plans to go there. But he fell ill and died before he could leave. After that there was no one who “asked about the ford.”
the time of Qin The First Emperor of the Qin dynasty used brutal force to unite all of China. The Chin dynasty mentioned in the first line was during Tao’s own time.
asked about the ford a disciple of Confucius asked two recluse farmers the way to the ford. They advised him to give up seeking political reform, like Confucius, and withdraw altogether from the world.
THE PEACH BLOSSOM SPRING
When the First Emperor upset Heaven’s order
Worthy men fled from the world
Huang and Ch’i went to Shang Mountain
These people also departed
Little by little their footprints faded,
The paths they fled by overgrown, abandoned
They encourage one another at their farming
When the sun sets, all go home to rest
Mulberry and bamboo give ample shade
Beans and millet planted in their season
Long threads are drawn from silkworms in spring
No king taxes the autumn harvest
Overgrown paths criss-cross the fields
Roosters and dogs crow and bark at one another
The people’s customs cling to ancient ways
In their clothing there are no new fashions
Children are free to wander about and sing
Old greybeards get to stroll and visit friends
When plants grow lush they live in peace
When trees are bare they feel the bitter wind
Although they don’t have chronicles or calendars
Four seasons somehow still complete the year
Living in harmony, brimming with happiness
Why should they strive to be learned or wise?
Their strange ways hidden for five hundred years
One morning revealed their mysterious world
The pure and the shallow spring from different sources
Soon their secret was hidden once again
Gentlemen who stay inside the square,
How can you grasp what’s beyond the noise and dust?
I wish to walk lightly on the wind
To soar on high in search of my true friends
Huang and Ch’i famous recluses.
inside the square as in English, a “square” person can be honest and upright and/or narrow-minded and bound by convention. In
Chuang-tzu Confucius says that he “wanders inside the square” whereas the recluses and hermits “wander outside the square.” In his boldest declaration of independence, Tao bids farewell to the “square” Confucians and sets out on his own path.
About the Author
Dan Veach is the founder and editor emeritus of Atlanta Review. For over two decades Atlanta Review has featured poetry from around the world, including wartime Iraq, pro-democracy Iran, and mainland Communist China. Dan’s own translations from Chinese, Arabic, Spanish and Anglo-Saxon have won the Willis Barnstone Translation Prize and the Independent Publisher Book Award. He is the editor and co-translator of Flowers of Flame: Unheard Voices of Iraq (Michigan State University Press, 2008). His poems and Chinese ink paintings are collected in Elephant Water, winner of the Georgia Author of the Year Award. Dan has performed his work worldwide, including Oxford University, People’s University in Beijing, the American University in Cairo, the Atheneum in Madrid, and the Adelaide Festival in Australia.