“When mind is far, its place becomes remote”
-----How does Tao Qian achieve this?
Tao Qian(Tao Yuan Ming, 365-427) was a child of a minor gentry family, his political ambition when he was young was to assist a ruler in governing a country. Actually, Tao Qian did hold some minor posts for his ideal before he encountered a variety of obstacles again and again. He did not fare well and after experiencing the ugliness of the Eastern Jin government, he realized that he was tired of living in public life. What’s more, pursuing official careers was actually against his
inclination, he then resigned and returned to his desired rural life. (Owen, 312)
Most of Tao Qian’s poetry are about his life in gardens and fields, they are
pure, plain, nature and meaningful. “A Tale of the Fountain of the Peach Blossom Spring” is one of the most famous poetry of Tao Qian, which describes a land of idyllic beauty. There were no class difference or oppression in that land and people lived a life of autarky, peace and enjoyment. However, when people came back to seek the place, it’s no longer exist. Tao Qian constructed such a place in his poetry in order to bring a strong contrast between the real dark
society and the wishful ideal society to reflect people’s dissatisfaction,
condemnation and resistance to the imperial court decadent and dark officialdom. With a “peach blossom spring” in mind and thinking of the life he desired, Tao Qian expressed his opinion that one can be remote or apart from society simply through thinking that he/she is rather than physically leaving it.
Why did Tao Qian have such attitude towards his life? During the time he lived, Confucianism and Taoism are two leading thoughts. As a descendant of a family that had produced public officials (his father and grandfather had pursued official life), Tao Qian was certainly educated with these two thoughts. While Confucianism lead him to develop an aspiration of joining the political life, Taoism made him realized that his essence of chasing for rural life after being thwarted for so many times and told him to be content with a life of seclusion. In the official government, bureaucrats, who were acting and pretending, dealt with each other courteously but without sincerity. Tao Qian was trapped by the frustrated life, he could not endure anymore and sighed that “Man cannot make
curtsies for the salary of five bushels of rice”. With moral integrity, Tao Qian longed for the quiet country life which can get rid of unease and anxiety. Then he quitted and retired to be a farmer, escaping from sorrow and suffering.
Most of his remarkable poetries, which describe the quiet pleasure of farming life, were written in his later years when he lived far away from the public official. Tao Qian brought a new era for poetry since he wrote in a
relatively simple and plain style to admire beauties of nature and the peace and freedom of country life. His life as well as his style of writing he pursued was purity, simplicity, harmony and freedom.
Below, Tao Qian’s two of the famous poetry is discussed. One is “Drinking
Wine V” (Owen, 316), another is “Returning to Dwell in Gardens and Fields I”
“When the mind is set apart, the place itself becomes remote” is coming from the poetry “Drinking Wine V”, which means if one’s ambition and related action are free from vulgarity, then, even if living in a dark society, he/she will feel like staying in a quiet land far away. This poetry describes the rustic life Tao lived and his exclamation towards such life. The first four sentences: “I built a cottage right in the realm of men, yet there was no noise from wagon and horse. I ask you, how can that be so? - When mind is far, its place becomes remote. (Owen, 316)”
Actually, the meaning is not only based on the literal description but also to tell that living in a real world, Tao Qian was not troubled with the bother of common status. Why and how could he achieve this? The reason was that he did not want to chase for worldly fame and wealth in heart. Tao Qian implied that the key of a person to get peace of mind, was not where he lived (in downtown or countryside),
but whether his ambition was refined. If the ambition was refined (i.e., "when mind is far"), then even resided downtown, his soul would continue to be peaceful; otherwise, if with a vulgar ambition, even resided in the mountains, his mind could still not be peaceful.
The following four sentences: “I picked a chrysanthemum by the eastern
hedge, off in the distance gazed on South Mountain. Mountain vapors glow lovely in twilight sun, where birds in flight join in return. (Owen, 316)” Seeing a
natural and beautiful view as well as a harmonious way that creatures lived with each other, the poet’s mind blended with his sight unconsciously. He was deeply intoxicated in a state of unity of spirit and matter. Actually, Tao Qian used a way of imagery to demonstrate a realm of life, which was the nature and human, heart and objects were highly united so that people could feel a free world to survival although this world existed based on the refined mind people owned.
The last two sentences: “There is some true significance here: I want to
expound it but have lost the words (Owen, 316). Tao Qian wanted to interpret his mental attitude less abstractly and made people think about it: If people really want to achieve a survival realm with high degree of freedom, they must live according to their nature as much as possible, and get rid of wrapped worldly affairs so well as troubled interpersonal relations.
“Returning to Dwell in Gardens and Fields I (Owen, 316)” is mainly about
Tao Qian’s feeling of retirement and backing to countryside. “My youth felt no
comfort in common things, by my nature I clung to the mountains and hills. I erred and fell in the snares of dust and was away thirteen years in all. The caged bird yearns for its former woods, fish in a pool yearns for long-ago deeps (Owen, 316).” In the beginning, he compared the society as a “dusty-net” and “cage” to
reflect the dark side of the world. Moreover, Tao regretted being in a nasty, bureaucratic life for many years and wasting a lot of good times in nature. “Clearing scrub at the edge of the southern moors, I stay plain by returning to gardens and fields (Owen, 316).” By illustrating the farming life, Tao realized that it was much more noble than the official life. Thus he really liked and respected for rustic life and experienced it joyfully. Besides appreciating the rural life, Tao actually admired more the nature and social environment he lived for his farming life. Therefore, the environment was described in detail to show a satisfying, comfortable and ease life. “My holdings are just more than ten acres,
a thatched cottage of eight or nine rooms. Elms and willows shade eaves at the back, peach and plum spread in front of the hall. The far towns of men are hidden from sight, a faint blur of smoke comes from village hearths. A dog is barking deep in the lanes, a rooster cries out atop a mulberry. No dust pollutes my doors or yard, empty space offering ample peace (Owen, 316).” That’s the
real life Tao wanted to have! Finally, after contrasting the natural world with the busy and unfree political life, Tao sighed: “For long time I was kept inside a coop,
now again I return to the natural way (Owen, 316).” For conclusion, Tao made a
contrast between natural and official life, expressed his feeling of aversion and
regret of official life, as well as his love and respect for natural life.
Tao Qian lived in a poetic life. As a way to survive, poetry became a philosophy of life. When living in the farm land, he’s practicing a sense of lifestyle
aesthetically. However, few people would enjoy the farming life with plough, simple diet, and cloth garment. Tao had filtered the bitter of life into a simple plain and practical poetic life. Only with such kind of psychological construct can he ran out of the official life which made him ease physically but suffering mentally, and throw himself into a nature life with hardworking toil but joyful spirit. Lastly, the conflict of social status leaded Tao to develop a refined mind, which contributed to his free mind even if stays in noisy world.