The Selected Poems of T'ao Ch'ien

 

T'ao Ch'ien (365-427 C.E.) stands at the head of the great Chinese poetic tradition like a revered grandfather: profoundly wise, self-possessed, quiet, comforting. T'ao was the first writer to make a poetry of his natural voice and immediate experience, thereby creating the personal lyricism which distinguishes ancient Chinese poetry and makes it seem so contemporary.

 

T'ao gained quasi-mythic status for his commitment to life as a recluse-farmer, despite poverty and hardship, and his poetry mirrors that life. Its unassuming surface reveals a rich philosophical depth. Virtually all major Chinese poets recognized in T'ao a depth and clarity of wisdom that seemed beyond them, a wisdom which also made him a figure honored in the Ch'an (Zen) Buddhist tradition. Huang T'ing-chien, the Sung Dynasty poet, said of T'ao: "When you've just come of age, reading these poems seems like gnawing on withered wood. But reading them after long experience in the world, it seems the decisions of your life were all made in ignorance."

 

                       — from the book jacket

 

 

Copper Canyon