In the beginning, we discussed Tao's motivation for writing the collection of poems "On Drinking." After Tao had turned down an offer for a government position, giving up the benefits and salary of that position, he returned home to take up farming and suffered from such starvation and cold that even his wife and family could not forgive him. At that point, he began to doubt himself: "Should I have accepted that government position? Have I made the right choice?" Then he thought, "Fame and riches do not last long; I cannot go against my conscience for the sake of temporary fame and wealth." That's why he said: Wise men understand these conditions, harboring no doubts whatsoever. He would have no more doubts. Thus he concludes:
Unexpectedly presented with a vessel of wine, /I enjoyed it day and night. Someone happened to give me this wonderful wine. 'Unexpectedly' means by chance. Since I have understood the overarching principle governing the matters of the universe and the world and I have experienced how a wise man understands these conditions, I am now able to raise the wine glass cheerfully and enjoy it heartily.
From what we have studied, we can see that Tao Yuanming's drinking was totally different from that of a drunkard who drinks till he passes out. Tao was filled with thoughts and feelings, but no one understood or sympathized with him. His only recourse was to relieve his loneliness by drinking in solitude and writing his thoughts and feelings down afterwards. This concludes the explanation of the first poem.
We have said that Tao Yuanming considered many issues of life in his collection of poems entitled "On Drinking." In the first poem, he tried to explain that most people pursue fame and wealth, and dislike ruin and poverty. However, Tao Yuanming believed that a wise man would hold a broader view, understanding that fame, wealth, ruin and poverty are inseparable and unfixed. Ruin has within itself the potential for glory, and wealth contains the seed of poverty. Someone endowed with such a perspective will not worry about
whether he is enjoying glory or suffering ruin. That is the theme of the first poem. Now let's take a look at his second poem:
It is said that accumulated good brings a reward.
Yi and Shu starved at West Mountain.
If good and evil are of no consequence,
How did our ancient maxims come to be?
At ninety, Rong used a rope as his belt
And lived in hunger and cold as if he were still young.
Were it not for those individuals who chose poverty so as to
preserve their integrity,
What in history would be worth passing down to future generations?
When I read this poem, I pronounced some words differently because the tones represent different meanings. Since the lyrical poem is meant to touch people, it is very important that the words can convey feelings. Besides the literal meanings, the sounds and the tone of a poem can evoke certain feelings in readers.
Thus, I read
Shu in the fourth tone in Yi and Shu starved at West Mountain. It ought to be read in the fourth tone. Also the character
jie meaning 'integrity' in the second-to-last line should be pronounced in the fourth tone, although most people pronounce it in the second tone. Also, I pronounced the character
bai as bo in the last line. Besides the tones, we also have to be mindful of the fact that Chinese characters often have various pronunciations, each pronunciation representing a different meaning. For example, the character
yin meaning 'consequence' in the third line should be pronounced in the fourth tone, not the first.
Yin pronounced in the first tone means 'should' or 'obliged,' whereas in the fourth tone it means 'retribution' or 'response.' I just wanted to briefly mention the issue of tones and pronunciation before discussing the poem itself. Now, let us look at this poem. Whereas Tao Yuanming's first poem discusses the uncertainty of ruin and prosperity, his second poem focuses on the impermanence of divine fate and on retributions for good and evil. It brings up the question of whether or not consequences exist when one does good or evil.
According to Buddhism, there are natural consequences for bothgood and evil deeds. Buddhism teaches that there is reincarnation afterpassing away, and that there are previous lives and future lives. Gooddeeds incur pleasant retribution and evil deeds reap unpleasantretribution. Even if you don't receive the retributions in this life, youare bound to receive them in future lives. That is the Buddhist stance.However, Confucianism has always been the mainstream tradition.Confucianism does not believe in previous and future lives. If only thepresent lifetime is considered, the idea of retribution for good and evilmay not be verifiable.
To be continued