Tao Qian

Yim Tze, Charles KWONG, Tufts University


Like much of Chinese lyricism, Tao’s poetry is an expression of personal thoughts, feelings and experiences. It is thus important to remember that China’s most celebrated nature poet and hermit was also an ardent visionary forced by political and social ills to choose eremitism for the last 20 years of his life. Charting a lifelong quest for a personal and cultural identity, his work reveals a dialectic search for a social and nature ideal informed by Daoism and Confucianism, as they form an alternating existential current charging him with antipodal sentiments and impelling his shifting perspective on the cosmic principles directing his destiny. More importantly, these visions constitute a thematic macrostructure and a stylistic underpinning of his art, which stands in unity with his life and ideals. As the poet returned to an intrigue-free world of nature with his social aspirations frustrated but never extinguished, his writing, like the famous ‘Yin jiu’ [Drinking Wine] poems, continued to reflect the contrasting hues and intermingled tones of an artistic world that included not only portraits of nature, but also a poignant response to history, mortality and time.