Mt. Morrison & Owens River in April 2022 and February 2023, Robin L. Chandler.
Vast and majestic, mountains embrace your shadow;
Broad and deep, rivers harbor your voice.
Home Again Among Fields and Gardens
Nothing like all the others, even as a child,
rooted in such love for hills and mountains,
I stumbled into their net of dust, that one
departure a blunder lasting thirteen years.
But a tethered bird longs for its old forest,
and a pond fish its deep waters — so now,
my southern outlines cleared, I nurture
simplicity among these fields and gardens,
home again. I’ve got nearly two acres here,
and four or five rooms in this thatch hut,
elms and willows shading the eaves in back,
and in front, peach and plum spread wide.
Villages lost across mist-and-haze distances,
kitchen smoke drifting wide-open country,
dogs bark deep among back roads out here,
and roosters crow from mulberry treetops.
No confusion within these gates, no dust,
my empty home harbors idleness to spare.
Back again: after so long caged in that trap,
I’ve returned to occurrence coming of itself.
T’ao Ch’ien (365 – 427)
The rise of wilderness poetry in the early 5th century C.E. was part of a profound new engagement with wilderness that arose among Chinese artist-intellectuals for several reasons: the recent loss of northern China to “barbarians,” forcing China’s artist-intellectuals to emigrate with the government, settling in the southeast where they were enthralled by a new landscape of serenely beautiful mountains…..born into the educated aristocracy, T’ao was expected to take his proper place in the Confucian order by serving in the government. Accordingly, he took a number of government positions. But he had little patience for the constraints and dangers of official life, and little interest in its superficial rewards, so he finally broke free and returned to the life of a recluse-farmer on the family farm at his ancestral village of Ch’ai-sang (Mulberry-Bramble), just northwest of the famous Thatch-Hut (Lu) Mountain…..this was not a romantic return to the bucolic, but to a life in which the spiritual ecology of tzu-jan was the very texture of everyday experience. This outline of T’ao Ch’ien’s life became a central organizing myth in the Chinese tradition: artist-intellecuals over millennia admired and imitated the way T’ao lived out his life as a recluse, though it meant enduring considerable poverty and hardship…..this commitment, so central to the rivers-and-mountains tradition in poetry, was the one honorable alternative to government service for the artist-intellectual class…..represented a commitment to a more spiritually fulfilling life in which one inhabits the wilderness cosmology in the most immediate day-to-day way…..if Tao’s poems seem bland, a quality much admired in them by the Sung Dynasty poets, it’s because they are never animated by the struggle for understanding. Instead they begin with the deepest wisdom.
Verse, poem, and biography from Mountain Home: The Wilderness Poetry of Ancient China translated by David Hinton