Choosing to be Simple: Collected Poems of Tao Yuanming

Bill Porter (Red Pine)

The latest work in Red Pine’s rich career of translation, Choosing to Be Simple: Collected Poems of Tao Yuanming, is a definitive portrait of the early Chinese politician and poet. Thoroughly researched and beautifully translated, this bilingual collection of over 160 verses chronicles Tao Yuanming’s path from civil servant to reclusive poet during the formative Six Dynasties period (220–589). Familiar scenes like farming and contemplating the nature of work and writing are examined with intimate honesty. As Red Pine illuminates Tao Yuanming’s sensitive voice, we find the poet’s solace and sorrow in a China transformed by modernity.

ISBN: 9781556596728

Format: Paperback




With the passing days and months
as you leave childhood behind
good fortune won’t be undeserved
but disaster easily earned
rise early and retire late
I hope such habits are yours
if they aren’t
so be it

About the Translator

Bill Porter assumes the pen name Red Pine for his translation work. He was born in Los Angeles in 1943, grew up in the Idaho Panhandle, served a tour of duty in the US Army, graduated from the University of California with a degree in anthropology, and attended graduate school at Columbia University. Uninspired by the prospect of an academic career, he dropped out of Columbia and moved to a Buddhist monastery in Taiwan. After four years with the monks …

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“Navigating the uncertainty of a divided China wracked by warfare and corruption, Tao Yuanming’s poetry—expertly translated by Red Pine—chooses the path walked by China’s ancient sages, finding joy in living a simple life. The latest work in Red Pine’s rich career of translation, Choosing to be Simple: Collected Poems of Tao Yuanming, is a definitive portrait of the early Chinese politician and poet….We are encouraged to find joy in simplicity—the tending of a garden, the sharing of wine with a stranger.” —New York Journal of Books

“Reading a great ancient poet, like the reclusive Tao Yuanming (365-427), is one of the most congenial ways to assess what feels timeless amidst the tumult of our own times: here, the desire for a meaningful life, the disappointment of worldly ambition, the joy of solitude and friendship, even the struggle to overcome addiction. . . . Tao’s impeccable translator Red Pine follows the traditional Chinese practice of offering scholarly commentary for each poem, but what persists in the transmutation to present-day English is less the discord of bygone dynasties than the poet’s quest for spiritual harmony.”—David Woo, Lit Hub

“Effortlessly captures the spirit of this ‘farmer-recluse,’ as [Tao Yuanming] called himself. As usual, the much-lauded translator Red Pine brings a deep knowledge of Chinese history and geography to his work, making Choosing to Be Simple not just a ‘collected poems,’ but more like a literary biography.”—John Bradley, Rain Taxi