Monday Motivation from medieval China's best-loved proponent of loud-quitting. How do we know what we know? And: Did history dudes hate Mondays?
In "The Banished Immortal" Ha Jin recounts the scene where Li Bai visits Tao's cottage some 300 years later.
"About eight miles north of Mount Lu was a hamlet called Shang-jing. The poet Tao Yuanming (376–427) had once lived there. It was remarkable that Li Bai journeyed to the small village to look at Tao’s homestead and pay his respects at his grave, which had fallen into disrepair, the words on the stone hardly legible. Like his deserted homestead, Tao had remained obscure for more than three centuries after his death. Only two decades prior to Li Bai’s visit had Tao’s poetry begun to be recognized by Tang poets, particularly for his presentation of immediate experiences in nature and the daily life of the countryside. Evidently Li Bai was one of his new admirers. Viewed from Tao’s homestead, Mount Lu loomed in the distance, often half-hidden in clouds, against which birds sailed in the misty sky. The sublime scene depicted in Tao’s poem “Drinking Wine” must refer to this view: “Picking chrysanthemums under my eastern hedge, / I raise my eyes and see the mountain in the south.”"
Ha Jin's translation here adopts "see" rather than "gaze". Although the scene he describes of the mountain in the clouds with birds brings to mind Du Fu's 望岳 where "gazing" is definitely the order of the day.
This problem of historical layers of shading is really interesting. One of the most interesting bits of writing that I can never find again was about the manuscripts of Li Bai, with a hint that one of his most "characteristic" lines may have been a later interpolation based on the myth of Li Bai that was already developing by the end of the Tang.
I chase my tail for days sometimes wondering how much it matters, given how poetry/writing in general is so much a form of self-mythologising anyway...
But yes, it's a nice translation, and it's certainly often true that these old writers absent their centuries of curation come across as weirder and more engaging.
I liked your translation!
How about continuing a little further in Drinking Wine #5:
“I pick chrysanthemums by my eastern hedge;
far off I see the southern hills.
How fine the sunset through mountain mists,
and the soaring birds come home together.
There is some real meaning in all of this,
though when I try to grasp it I forget the words.”
What he was experiencing is hard to be put into words!
I like the alliteration of your "Rank and riches," which captures the "respectable" aspect of 富貴 in a clever way...
I thought the preface was fine!
I very much enjoyed your translation and commentary.
Some day soon, I may muster the courage “not [bend] at the waist for the sake of five pecks of rice” (不為五斗米折腰); although in my case, the bending may be the more heroic feat.
I do think you could have a very droll translation book out in time for the World Series. "Cracking Open a Cold One with the Moon.”