Tao Yuanming (365-427), a native of
Caisang of Xunyang (today's southwest of Jiujiang in Jiangxi Province), was born
in a family of a downfallen eunuch. He had served as an official for several
years, and later abdicated his post. He led a reclusive life after rejecting the
life of an official, and made rural life the major subject of his creation and
was, thereby, called a pastoral poet.
At a time when poems written in excessively
ornate language and strictly imitated forms, yet empty of content, achieved
dominance in poetry circles, Tao Yuanming carried on the tradition of
Yuefu folksongs and formed his own simple and natural style, opening up a
new vista for classical poetry. Moreover, he further refined the forms of the
Many of Tao Yuanming's poems reflect his
disgust of the negative of social reality and a strong love for the quiet and
simple life in the countryside. In Back to Nature he compares officialdom
to a net and life in official circles to that of a "caged bird" and a "pounded
fish" and the recluse's life is likened to "breaking the birdcage" and
"returning to nature."
Disappointment with the real world drove Tao
Yuanming to construct an ideal world in his poems, as in his Peach Blossom
Spring, which evokes from his imagination the form of a utopian society.
Apart from his landscape poems, Tao
Yuanming's works, which cover various subject matters, also include poems
lauding warriors, poems full of love for the nation, and poems revealing his
wish to hide from the world.
Tao Yuanming often drew his materials from
the surrounding landscape and his daily life and used simple language to write
them out. His poems, therefore, sound natural and sincere, conceived in
tranquillity and peace.