Tao Qian Analysis

Other literary forms

(World Poets and Poetry)

Tao Qian (tow chee-EHN) is known primarily as a poet. Among his extant works are two fu rhyme-prose compositions (that is, rhythmic and occasionally rhymed prose), the renowned “Return” in ci form (another quasi-poetic genre), a letter to an acquaintance, prefaces, seven can collophons (envois), a biographical note on an official colleague, several essays, obituaries, and the celebrated “Record of the Peach Grove.”


(World Poets and Poetry)

Probably more has been written about Tao Qian, in whatever language, than about any other Chinese poet. Studies by Japanese scholars alone, to whom Tao Qian most strongly appealed, run into many hundreds of titles. Tao Qian is primarily associated with the foundations of the tianyuan, or “pastoral” (literally, “cultivated fields and orchards”) school of poetry (as opposed to the rugged shanshui “mountains and waters” landscapes of his contemporary, the celebrated nobleman Xie Lingyun, 385-433). The unadorned directness of his poetic diction and the innocent, touching sentiment of his anchorite forbearance have perennially appealed to the oversophisticated Chinese bureaucrat-litterateur. Writing in the prevailing pentameter line of his day, Tao Qian was the first to exploit the shi lyric form extensively for such topics as wine (which he tirelessly celebrated) and the idiosyncrasies of his own children. These eventually became favorite themes in Tang and later poetry. As James Robert Hightower has observed in The Poetry of T’ao Ch’ien, “even the shortest and most selective list of famous Chinese poets would have to find a place for Tao Qian,” and his poetry above that of all others appears the most frequently in anthologies of Chinese verse.


(World Poets and Poetry)

Davis, A. R. T’ao Yüan-ming: His Works and Their Meaning. 1983. Reprint. 2 vols. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009. This thorough study consists of a volume of translation and commentary, and a second volume of commentary, notes, and a biography of the poet.

Field, Stephen L. “The Poetry of Tao Yuanming.” In Great Literature of the Eastern World, edited by Ian P. McGreal. New York: HarperCollins, 1996. A brief teaching guide with an analysis of Tao Qian’s three poems “A Returning to Live in the Country,” “Return Home!” and “Peach Blossom Found.”

Kwong, Charles Yim-tze. Tao Qian and the Chinese Poetic Tradition: The Quest for Cultural Identity. Ann Arbor, Mich.: Center for Chinese Studies, 1994. One of the few English-language literary studies of Tao Qian’s work. Discusses the poet in his cultural and literary contexts, comparing his work to that of both Chinese and Western poets.

Lin, Pauline. “Rediscovering Ying Qu and His Poetic Relationship to Tao Qian.” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 69, no. 1 (June, 2009): 31. Lin argues that Tao Qian was influenced by the earlier poet Ying Qu. She compares their poetry, finding similarities, and discusses why Ying Qu is not as famous.

Rusk, Bruce. “An Interpolation in Zhong Hong’s...

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