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A Poem on Returning Home by Tao Yuanming

歸去來辭 ​Guī qù lái cí

by Tao Yuanming 陶淵明 (c. 365-427)

Intro: Three Chinese poems for the HTL Legacy website April, 2022

We have three poems for the website this time from three different eras of Chinese history. The first is from the Classic of Poetry, which dates from the earliest historical period for which we have reliable records. The second is from the Six Dynasties period and the third from the Song dynasty.

We have provided the modern standard Hanyu pinyin transliterations of the sounds of the characters to increase the readers’ enjoyment. The sounds of the characters would have been significantly different in the times when the poems were written. We hope that readers will enjoy reading the poems in Chinese, in pinyin and in English translations. As always, feedback and suggestions and discussion are welcome.

Ellen Soullière Wellington, New Zealand


A Poem on Returning Home 歸去來辭

This is the first stanza of a famous poem by Tao Yuanming 陶淵明 (c. 365-427), poet and official in the Six Dynasties period. Entitled A Poem on Returning Home 歸去來辭 guì qù lái cí, it contains Tao Yuanming’s reflections on the simple pleasures of returning to a rustic life in the country after years of service as an official. David Knechtges in At the shores of the sky published by Brill draws attention to the overlap of the language of lines 6 and 7 with The Analects 18:5. In this poem, those two lines seemed particularly difficult to translate. I tried to capture the contrast between 往wang and 來lai used by the poet to contrast his previous approach with his new one. In English, though, it was hard to make the verbs go and come work well to convey what I think is the meaning in the sentences.


Guī qù lái cí

A poem on returning home


​Guī qù lái xī.

​Return home!


​Tián yuan jiāng wú, hú bù guī?

​Fields and gardens will be overgrown, why not return?


​Jì zì yǐ xīn wèi xíng yì.

​It was I myself who put my heart in service.


​Xī chóuchàng ér dú bēi?

​Why be disappointed, alone, and disheartened?


​Wù yǐ wáng zhī bú jiàn,

​I realize that the way I went in the past was not wise.


​Zhī lái zhě zhī kě zhuī.

​Those who know what is to come can get it right.


​shí mí tú qí wèi yuǎn.

​Truly, the wrong road has not taken me far,


​Jué jīn shì ér zuó fēi.

​I see that the present is real and yesterday was mistaken.

A Poem on Returning Home 歸去來辭
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By Ho Cheng(何澄,1223 --?). Collection of Museum of Jilin Province, China.

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