However, in this poem, Tao Yuanming was not
talking about his pursuit of longevity. Rather, he was just
expressing his fondness for chrysanthemums. Chrysanthemums
do not only possess external beauty but also symbolizes the
inner quality of virtue, just as in "Bearing this virtuous
and elegant nature, they are heroes in the frost" [In
Response to Secretary Guo]. He said, "And float them in this
Carefree Drink, which encourages me to leave the world."
Here, the character 'yuan' is used as a verb, as in 'to
enable me to be apart from something.' 'To leave the world'
means to leave behind all worldly gains and losses, benefits
and disadvantages. Tao Yuanming, in fact, had the notion of
leaving the world just like how "a distressed bird strayed
from the flock, still flies alone at dusk." His grammar
seems inconsistent but then you should know that "Tao
Yuanming did not write for the sake of writing poetry; he
simply expressed the wonders in his mind" [Chen Shidao in
Houshan's Comments on Poetry]. He expressed his innermost
sentiments which were very subtle, yet profound and that's
why, at times, he did not adhere strictly to the grammatical
rules of writing.
Regardless of this, certain characters in
Tao's poems that express speech tones convey a very subtle
meaning. He said, "And float them in this Carefree Drink,
which encourages me to leave the world. I drink my cup in
solitude, and when it's empty, I refill it from my flask."
In the last two lines, the characters 'du' [solitude] and 'zi'
[I] are used in an ingenious way because they portray his
subtle and profound feelings about life. What he is saying
is that his present choice is firmer. But then, who would
understand his choice? Who would know his feelings? Did his
wife and children know his feelings? They didn't. How can
you tell that they didn't know? It's because Tao Yuanming
once said in a letter, "My only regret is not having
neighbors such as the two Zhong, nor a wife such as Lai's. I
uphold a life of principle, but feel really lonely and
guilty" [Letter To My Son Yan etc]. Unlike Lao Laizi's
wife, Tao Yuanming's wife did not understand or support her
husband's decision to retreat into seclusion. And what about
his sons? Did they understand him? Tao Yuanming lamented in
one of his poems: "Although I have five sons, none of them
is fond of brush and paper" [Reproaching My Sons]. Amongst
his five sons, not one of them was fond of studying. That's
why when he “floated them in this Carefree Drink, which
encouraged him to leave the world,” he had gained certain
bliss akin to that he could actually live his life according
to his ideals. However, nobody understood him and he felt a
certain sense of isolation. The line, I drink my cup in
solitude, and when it's empty, I refill it from my flask,
expresses his mixed feelings of self-satisfaction and
Tao Yuanming was adept at expressing this
type of feelings. You may consider the emotion evoked by the
characters 'du' and 'zi' [alone]. Will you be happy only
when others understand you? Tao Yuanming once said,
"Although I don't have any bosom friends, there is no
remorse on my part" [In Praise of Impoverished Gentlemen].
Even though there is not a single person in the world who
understands me, what does it matter? In fact, the character
'zi' denotes a feeling that is rather appealing.
While he was self-contented, at sunset,
everything quietens down. Chirping birds head back to the
woods. As the sun gradually sets, the activities of all
living things come to a halt. The ancients said, "Work when
the sun rises; rest when the sun sets." This is especially
so for people living in the farms, unlike in the bustling
city where there are people who sleep during the day and
come out at night to enjoy life. Farmers have to work in the
day and rest in the night. At that time, the natural scenery
that he saw was: At sunset, everytbing quietens down.
Chirping birds head back to the woods. The phrase 'qu lin'
means to head towards the woods. The birds' nests are inside
the woods and that's why at sunset, all the birds head back
to their nests. These two lines are very simple and easy to
~ To be continued