Therefore, what would you
call fortune? What would you say is misfortune? That's
why Tao Yuanming wrote, "Decline and prosperity
are impermanent, each reciprocating the other." This
line expresses the philosophy.
Then Tao alluded to
stories from Chinese history to prove it. He said:
"Mr. Shao in the melon patch / Bears no resemblance to the
Marquis of Dongling." Mr. Shao is a man. He is
mentioned in the handout. The earliest notes on Tao
Yuanming's poems were written by Li Gonghuan in the
Song Dynasty. The material in the handout is from
Commentary and Notes on Tao Yuanming's Poems,
written by Gu Zhi, a contemporary scholar.
The terms 'commentary'
(qian) and 'notes' (zhu) do not mean quite
the same thing [in Chinese]. Notes give the sources for
historical events alluded to in the text. A commentary
provides not only the sources, but also the historical
context in which the poem was composed. Since Li
Gonghuan only made notes, we call his work Li's Notes,
while Gu Zhi's is both an annotation and a
Regarding this line, Gu
Zhi follows Li's explanation. Li's Notes refer to
the "Biography of Xiao He" in the Han Chronicles,
which records that, "Shao Ping was the Marquis of
Dongling in the Qing Dynasty. After the fall of Qing,
he became a commoner. Driven by poverty, he grew melons on
the east side of the city of Chang'an. His melons were so
good that they became known as 'Dongling melons.'" This is a
historical story. Shao Ping was conferred the title
Marquis of Dongling in the Qing Dynasty, so he was an
aristocrat, a lord. His name is sometimes written using the
character 'Zhao'. When the Qing Dynasty was replaced
by the Han Dynasty, Shao Ping, formerly an aristocrat,
became a commoner. He made a living by planting melons on
the east side of Chang'an. 'His melons were so good'
indicates the melons he nourished were excellent. His melons
were 'good' in two respects: first, they were fresh
and attractive in color. It is recorded in history
that his melons had five colors. Second, his melons tasted
great. In general, he was quite skilled at growing
Tao Yuanming used that
example to tell us not to assume that the descendants
of wealthy, glamorous, and noble families will always be
aristocrats generation after generation. Emperor Shi of the
Qin Dynasty fantasized that his lineage would produce
emperors for generations, yet his empire perished in
his son's hands.
Now, Tao's line refers
to Mr. Shao—Shao Sheng. ('Sheng' was the ancient
Chinese title equivalent to Mr. For instance, in the line, "Zhuang
Sheng dreamed of butterflies at night," Zhuang Sheng refers
to Zhuang Zi - Master Zhuang.) Tao Yuanming said while
Shao Sheng, the former aristocrat, is laboring in his
melon patch, he "bears no resemblance to the Marquis
of Dongling." How could he be the same as he was in the days
when he was the Marquis of Dongling?
We said that the
principles in Tao's poems usually express his experience and
impressions of the scenes of Nature. But we should know that
those scenes are not limited to Nature, but also encompass
human situations, both contemporary and ancient. Here
Tao uses melon grower Shao Sheng, a former
aristocratic marquis, as a classical metaphor to
illustrate the idea that "Decline and prosperity are
impermanent, each reciprocating the other."
He continues in the
next line with more philosophy: Winter and summer come
and go; /So it is with human affairs. He believed that
the phenomena of 'each reciprocating the other'
exists throughout the universe and the natural world. Not
only do plants, flowers, and grasses go through phases
of flourishing and withering, the seasons themselves also
follow a constant cycle, rotating and passing.
"Did you think that
only the four seasons follow a cycle? They shift and
change; and so it is with human affairs—the changes
in human life are the same way; that is the 'way of
humans.' Anyway, both celestial and human affairs are
constantly and mutually changing.
Then, regarding this
theory, he said, Wise men understand these
conditions, /Harboring no doubts whatsoever. In
explaining 'wise men,' the commentary quotes from Jia Yi's
"Verse on a Buzzard": "The wise man has a broad
perspective; there is nothing he cannot handle." Jia Yi is
the name of a person who lived during the reign of Emperor
Wen of the Western Han Dynasty. He was very
knowledgeable and concerned about national affairs.
Seeing the numerous political problems of the Western
Han Dynasty, he submitted a report to the emperor: "Among
current national affairs, there is one that we should
cry about, two that we should weep about, and six that
we should sigh deeply about." Jia Yi hoped to make the
government take these matters seriously, so that
reforms could be made and the country strengthened.
who liked to criticize the government and submit
proposals to the emperor was inevitably assaulted and
schemed against by the rival parties in the ruling
court. Later on, Jia Yi was banished from Chang'an and
went to Changsha, and it was in those circumstances that
he wrote the "Verse on a Buzzard." It was said that the
buzzard was a evil bird. Misfortunes would befall
anyone who saw the bird. One day, Jia Yi saw a
buzzard, so he wrote a verse in an ancient Chinese literary
style called fu.
To be continued