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To My Cousin Jing-yuan 1

Tao, Yuan-ming (365-427 CE)

Living in my thatched hut in seclusion,
I rarely associate with the outside world.
I look around and see no visitors.
My door is kept closed even in the daytime.
The chilly wind at the end of the year wails.
With gloomy skies,
It snows all day.
I cannot hear the snow fall.
All I can see is an expanse of white 2.
The chill invades my collar and sleeves.
All I can afford is water and simple meals.
My home is bleak and desolate.
Nothing is inviting.
When I read Chinese classics,
I often discover the legacy of sages.
I may not achieve their noble characteristics,
But I resolve to be content with poverty.
Now I resolve not to return to my corrupt position,
Living in seclusion does not signify failure.
My poem contains overtones.
Only you can understand its hidden meanings.

Notes

1 Shu Tao's (1779-1839) Annotations of The History of Yu-Zhang City (written by Zi-zhang Guo [1543-1618]) says, "Jia Meng (296-349), the maternal grandfather of Yuan-ming Tao and the tenth son-in-law of Kan Tao (259-334), married his two daughters to the two sons of Mao Tao, one of Kan Tao's sons. One of Mao Tao's sons fathered Yuan-ming; the other fathered Jing-yuan." Thus, Yuan-ming's father and Jing-yuan's father were brothers; Yuan-ming's mother and Jing-yuan's mother were sisters.
    In the first half of the above poem, Tao describes the poverty in his social activity, material life, and sensual pleasure. In the second half, he illustrates the right attitude toward poverty. When confronting poverty, some people may become corrupt or commit crimes. Others may be content with what they have and maintain integrity. Tao belonged to the latter group. Tao wrote this poem in December 403. In November 403, Xuan Huan deposed Emperor An-di and usurped the throne. Thus, Tao's being content with poverty showed his loyalty to his emperor and his political ideals.

2 He-lin Lo (1196-1252) of the Song dynasty said, "These two lines fully describe the lightness and cleanness of snow. No one can add more to Tao's description." He-lin-yu-lu (He-lin's jade dew) written by He-lin Lo says, "After reading Tao's poem, one may visualize numerous snow flakes drift quietly to the ground and continue to pile up until the ground becomes a clean expanse of white."
The title of the following video is "White Snow and Spring Sunshine":
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KIpaSkhasXA
In Winter, snowstorms remove filth and prune weak branches. In Spring, both melted snow and sunshine nourish plants and stimulate growth.