Tao Yuanming Poems: Begging for Food – 陶渊明《乞食》



















Begging for Food

Driven by hunger, I go out

But I do not know whereabout.

I plod on and on till this land;

I knock and speechless there I stand.

The host, seeing my hidden pain,

Gives me food lest I’d come in vain.

We talk until the sun’s decline;

We empty cup on cup of wine.

I’m glad to make acquaintance new;

I write this verse as it is due.

I can’t repay like Han Xin[1] fed

By a washerwoman her bread.

How to express my hearty thanks?

In underworld on griefless banks[2].


[1]While young, Han Xin (2nd century B.C.) was fed by a washerwoman. When he became a general, he repaid her kindness with gold.

[2]It was believed in ancient China that there was a Griefless River in the underworld.


“Begging for Food” is a five-line poem written by Tao Yuanming, a great poet of the Jin and Song dynasties. The poem recounts a time when the poet went out to borrow money due to hunger, and received a gift and a drink from someone. The first four lines convey the poet’s complex feelings through specific actions and inner states; the middle six lines are about the generous hospitality of the host, from “harmonious talk” to “happy feelings”, from drinking to poetry; the last four lines express gratitude to the host, written with The last four stanzas express gratitude to the host, and are written with sorrow and indignation and deep emotion. The language of the poem is plain and unadorned, but it contains the beautiful glory of human nature.

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