Serendipity: Master of Five Willows

Master of Five Willows

Master of Five Willows

From Tau Ch’ien (365-427) comes this memorable portrait:

No one knows where he came from. His given and literary names are also a mystery. But we know there were five willows growing beside his house, which is why he used this name. At peace in idleness, rarely speaking, he had no longing for fame or fortune. He loved to read books, and yet never puzzled over their profound insights. But whenever he came upon some realization, he was so pleased that he forgot to eat.

He was a wine-lover by nature, but he couldn’t afford it very often. Everyone knew this, so when they had wine, they’d call him over. And when he drank, it was always bottoms-up. He’d be drunk in no time; then he’d go back home, alone and with no regrets over where things are going.

In the loneliness of his meager wall, there was little shelter from wind and sun. His short coat was patched and sewn. And made from gourd and split bamboo, his cup and bowl were empty as often as Yen Hui’s. But he kept writing poems to amuse himself, and they show something of who he was. He went on like this, forgetting all gain and loss, until he came naturally to his end.

In appraisal we say: Ch’ien Lou said Don’t make yourself miserable agonizing over impoverished obscurity, and don’t wear yourself out scrambling for money and honor. Doesn’t that describe this kind of man perfectly? He’d just get merrily drunk and write poems to cheer himself up. He must have lived in the most enlightened and ancient of times. If it wasn’t Emperor Wu-huai’s reign, surely it was Ko-t’ien’s.