Naturalness and authenticity : the poetry of Tao Qian

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)


The simplicity and lucidity of Tao Qian’s 陶潛 (365-427) poetry is an intriguing wonder. With no intention to impress by verbal eloquence, he does not strive to startle his readers like Du Fu or Han Yu; with no burning wish to be understood by all, he does not labour to make his poetry intelligible to old women in the manner of Bai Juyi. If at times even Li Bai’s exalted valour seems a little dramatized and Du Fu’s superb skill a shade artificial, Tao’s poetry is almost unfailingly convincing in its direct lyricism and simple language. It is not without good reason that Huan Tingjian (1045-1105), himself extremely emphatic about rigorous training in poetic craft as a means to the final state of effortless effusion, looks up to Tao as a natural genius beyond the reach of the ordinary: “Yuanming’s poetry is what is called fitting naturally without any fuss about rules and tailoring” (Yanjiu 1:39). And Chen Shidao (1053-1101), characterized by Huang as “shutting himself up in search of a phrase,” enviously sees Tao as one immune from the pains of literary craftsmanship: “ Yuanming does not write poetry, but only expresses the subtleties of his heart” (Yanjiu 1:42).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)35-77
Number of pages43
JournalChinese Literature: Essays, Articles, Reviews (CLEAR)
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 1989
Externally publishedYes


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