孔子周遊各國，不是遊山玩水，而是要看各國的君主有沒有人肯任用他，肯幫助他實現他的政治理想。因此他總是在各國之間跑來跑去。「栖」這個字讀「西」，不讀 「七」。我們常說「 栖栖惶惶」，意思是匆忙的，不安定的。
There were some ancient Chinese poets who were confused and uncertain about life and never managed to find a clear way out of their confusion. Tao Yuanming was also confused and uncertain, but what made him outstanding was that he did not remain that way, but found a place to establish himself and a path to walk.
His fourth poem describes the process of getting over the confusion and uncertainty, and sorting out his own life. He not only describes this process, but uses the metaphor of a bird. The most common used metaphors in his poems are pine trees, chrysanthemums, and birds. Generally, when Tao Yuanming used pine trees and chrysanthemums as metaphors, they had relatively fixed symbolic meanings. Both pine trees and chrysanthemums can withstand the cold wind and frost, and preserve their own characteristics.
However, Tao Yuanming used birds in various metaphorical ways. For example, his line, "Long confined to a cage" (from one of the five poems of "The Return") describes a caged bird lacking freedom, bound and constrained by numerous worldly affairs. The line, "Gazing at the clouds, the high-flying bird feels ashamed" (from "On Passing through Qu-Ah Shortly After Being Appointed as a Military Counselor") refers to a bird soaring freely in the sky, not bound or limited by worldly things. His line, "Birds fly home in groups" (in the fifth poem of "On Drinking") describes birds finding their way back home.
What kind of the bird did Tao Yuanming use in his metaphors? Was it a swallow, a magpie, a crow or a sparrow? Actually, he did not specify. He used the idea of a bird in general and did not specify a particular type of bird. This is also a characteristic of the bird metaphor in Tao's poems.
Now, what is the bird in this poem like? It is "a distressed bird, strayed from the flock." A good poet is adept at using language to express sentiments. Whether words truly convey sentiments depends first of all on whether one chooses the most suitable nouns, verbs and adjectives; second of all, on one's descriptive phrasing. Here, Tao Yuanming used an adjective to describe this bird. He said that it is a 'distressed' bird that has strayed from its flock. This is a marvelous usage of this word. Most educated Chinese people, upon reading xi xi, the characters for 'distressed,' think immediately of a sentence in the Analects of Confucius: "Why are you, Qiu, so distressed?" (Xian Wen, Analects.)
This is a question that Weisheng Mu , a lofty hermit who refused to work for the government, asked Confucius.
We all know that the Confucian ideal is "to seek an education, and then serve as an official" - to study well, and then work as an official. The purpose of study is to understand the principles. After studying and understanding the principles, one will have integrity and a refined character, enabling one to manage the family, govern the country, and bring peace to the world. A Confucian pursues an education and cultivates virtue in order to govern the country and bring peace to the world. During the time of Confucius, the ancient rites and music had been forgotten and neglected, and many immoral incidents occurred.
Confucius traveled among the feudal states, not sightseeing, but looking for a feudal ruler who would appoint him and help him carry out his political ideals. Therefore, he always travelled from one state to the next. The character 栖 for 'distressed' should be pronounced xi, not qi. We often say 栖栖惶惶xi xi huang huang which means hasty and unsettled. Weisheng Mu was a lofty hermit, who was content with his own peaceful life and did not concern himself with the affairs of the country or world. Therefore, he did not agree with what Confucius was doing and asked, "Why are you always so hasty and unsettled?" This is what makes Tao Yuanming marvelous. In writing about a lonely bird strayed from its flock, he chose an adjective that was used to describe Confucius in the Analects. Thus, the image of the bird carries a profound meaning and immediately becomes personified. Besides that, Tao makes excellent use of the word 'distressed'. 'Strayed' means it has become separated from its flock, so it stands out from the crowd.
When I introduced Tao Yuanming's life story, I mentioned that he was the son of Tao Kan, a famous minister of the Eastern Jin Dynasty who was appointed the Duke of Changsha. Therefore, Tao Yuanming came from the family of a government official. The children of such families would generally pursue an education and become officials themselves. Yet, we all know that Tao Yuanming finally quit his government job and returned home to take up farming. He differed from other hermits, such as Wang Wei of the Tang Dynasty. Wang Wei also went into seclusion, but did he ever work in the fields? Did he ever experience a life of hard labor? No, he never did.
To be continued