I just discovered this beautiful poem written by the famous Chinese poet, Tao Yuanming.
He apparently wrote this as an autobiography that was meant to be carved on his own tombstone.
There are many points that resonated deeply in my heart as I read it. Never have I read poetry that had such a strong power and effect on me and my heart.
Here’s my favourite line from the poem, which I decided to practice my calligraphy with (using a Noodler’s Creapers Flex pen which I acquired recently):
Beautiful, isn’t it?
Here’s the full text (if you find the passage too long, you can just read the lines that I’ve mark in bold – it captures the essence of the entire passage):
(trans. J. R. Hightower)
The year is ding-mao of the cycle, the season that of the tone wu-yi, when days are cold and the nights long, when the wind blows mournfully as the wild fowl migrate, and leaves turn yellow and fall. Master Tao is about to depart from this lodging house to return for all time to his own home. Old friends are grieved and mourn for him: this evening they give him a farewell banquet, offering a sacrificial food, pouring libations of clear wine. They look, and his face is dim; listening, they no longer hear the sound of his voice.
Alas, alas, this vast clod, earth, that illimitable high firmament, together produce all things, even me who am a man. But from the time I attained human estate, my lot has been poverty. Rice-bin and wine-gourd have often been empty, and I have faced winters in thin clothes. Still I have gone happily to draw water from the brook and have sung as I walked under a load of firewood, going about my daily affairs in the obscurity of my cottage. As springs gave way to autumn, I have busied myself in my garden hoeing, cultivating, planting or tending. I have rejoiced in my books and have been soothed by my zither. Winters I have warmed myself in the sun, summers I have bathed in the brook. There was little enough reward for my labour, but my mind enjoyed a constant leisure. Content with heaven and accepting my lot, I have lived out the years of my life.
Men fear to waste their lives, concerned that they may fail to succeed. They cling to the days and lament passing time. During their life they are honoured by the world, and after their death they still are mourned. But I have gone my own way, which is not their way. I take no glory in their esteem, nor do I feel defamed by their slander. I have lived alone in my poor house, drinking wine and writing poetry.
Aware of my destined end, of which one cannot be ignorant, I find no cause for regret in this present transformation. I have lived out my lifespan, and all my life I have desired quiet retirement. Now that I am dying, an old man, what have I left to wish for?
Hot and cold hasten on, one after the other. The dead have nothing in common with the survivors. Relatives come in the morning, friends arrive in the evening, to bury me in the meadow and give comfort to my soul. Dark is my journey, desolate the grave. It is shameful to be buried extravagantly as was Huan Tui (whose stone coffin was three years a-making), and ridiculous to be parsimonious like Yang Wangsun (who was buried naked), for after death there is nothing. Raise me no mound, plant me no grove; time will pass with the revolving sun and moon. I never cared for praise in my lifetime, and it matters not at all what eulogies are sung after my death. Man’s life is hard enough in truth; and death it not to be avoided.
Here’s the full text in classical Chinese: