Xie Lingyun was a member of a prominent aristocratic
Chinese family during the Qin (Ch’in) dynasty.
He entered the government before he was 20
years old and spent the next 20 years engaged in
politics. While the “barbarians” controlled the
north, aristocratic factions battled for control over
the Eastern Qin dynasty. After engaging in these
power struggles for many years, Xie found himself
on the losing side of a battle over the successor to
the newly reigning Liu-Song dynasty. At age 37 he
was exiled to Yung-chia on the southeast coast.
During this period, he had time to contemplate his
life and the natural world around him.He became
reconnected to his long-held Taoist and Buddhist
beliefs and began to write poetry.
Even after the exile was lifted, Xie did not return
to court life but instead became a recluse at the
family estate in the Shihning (Shih-ning) Mountains.
In one of his long prose-poems,“Dwelling in
the Mountains,” he describes his choice: “I devoted
myself to simplicity and returned to it all, / left that
workaday life for this wisdom of wandering, / for
this wilderness of rivers-and-mountains clarity.”
For a Chinese aristocrat, however, the life of a
recluse was not one of total isolation. Xie continued
to live with his family and often entertained
friends. In addition, the government ordered him
to serve as a local governor at a far outpost.When
he refused, he was banished to Nan-hai on the
southern coast and later executed.
While Xie was prominent in government and a
well-known calligrapher, he was most famous for
his wilderness poetry.His poetry, greatly influenced
by that of Xie Hun (Hsieh Hun), not only describes
nature but also celebrates the mountain wilderness
and rivers, revealing Xie’s spiritual connection to
his surroundings. Though few of his works survive,
he is famous as the initiator of the “rivers-andmountains”
(shan-shui) tradition. As the Taoist
hermit T’ao Hung-ching laments,“Here is the true
Paradise of the Region of Earthly Desires.Yet, since
the time of [Xie] K’ang-lo, no one has been able to
feel at one with these wonders, as he did.”
An English Version of a Work by Xie Lingyun
The Mountain Poems of Hsieh Ling-Yun. Translated by
David Hinton. New York: New Directions, 2001.