Gui Qu Lai Ci
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25. Come Away Home
- Standard tuning:2 5 6 1 2 3 5 6 played as 1 2 4 5 6 1 2
歸去來辭 1
Gui Qu Lai Ci
  Tao Returns Home (selection) 3        
The lyrics for this melody are a famous poem4 by Tao Qian (Tao Yuanming, 365-427) said to have been written in the first year of the 義熙 Yixi reign period (405 CE). The home to which he has returned is in Chaisang (Mulberry Firewood), an old name for Jiujiang, on the south bank of the Yangzi river in Jiangxi province.5

A very good summary of the circumstances leading up to the poem comes at the beginning of an essay by David R. Knechtes entitled, "An Early Medieval Chinese Poem on Leaving Office and Retiring ot the Countryside". The whole essay might well be read in connection to listening to this melody.

Although (Tao Yuanming) usually is celebrated as a great hermit poet (his biography in the standard histories is actually in the chapter on recluses), for the first forty years of his life he held various official positions, mostly in his home commandery of Xunyang 潯陽 (modern Jiujiang 九江, Jiangxi). His natal place is Chaisang 柴桑 (southwest of modern Jiujiang city, Jiangxi). Although he speaks repeatedly of his distaste for official service, Tao accepted positions with several of the warlord generals who held sway in the Xunyang area during this time. Tao’s final post was magistrate of Pengze 彭澤, a small county located in what is now modern northern Jiangxi on the south bank of the Yangtze River not far from modern Anhui. It was only about thirty miles from his home in Chaisang. This was in the autumn of 405. After eighty days in office, he decided to resign and retire for good. He returned to his home in the country, where he supported himself by farming and probably also by donations from friends.
Copied from

Quite likely Tao Qian's poem has a long history as a song, but nothing is known about what the music setting might have been. A poem by Lu You (1125 - 1210) suggests the lyrics were sung, likely in connection with qin, at least as early as the 12th century, but the poem gives no description of (or tablature for) the melody itself. Meanwhile the version of the Gui Qu Lai Ci melody published here in 1511 is quite closely related to the one still (or again) popular today, though the differences are worthy of examining. Thus first few surviving tablatures are especially similar to 1511, but then in 1589 a new version was introduced and most later versions seem most closely related to that one. However, it is still not clear to what extent the version commonly heard today (and also part of the Chinese conservatory syllabus), was passed down by tradition and to what extent it is a reconstruction, in particular from the version published in 1589.7

Although this 1511 setting, the earliest surviving occurrence in notation/tablature form, is clearly identifiable with modern versions, there are in fact a number of significant differences. Versions survive in at least 38 handbooks from 1511 to 1922,8 with, as mentioned, the one most commonly played today said to date from 1589. Most include, with slight variations, the same lyrics but one has substituted Buddhist lyrics.9 A new melody introduced in 1647 seems also to have had some popularity, but it does not seem to have survived. On the other hand, a very much modified version published in 1910 has survived, though perhaps only because of a reconstruction done in the 1950s.10 In any case, it is also very rare to hear the lyrics actually sung.11

Tao Qian's poem has also been the inspiration for several famous paintings in addition to the one included here.12

Original preface from Taigu Yiyin 13
Tao Yuanming's own original preface is included below under the original text for the Taigu Yiyin preface.

These lyrics were written by the Jin dynasty retired scholar Tao Qian. When Qian was magistrate of Pengze (30 miles from his home) a censor was sent to his district by the provincial government. He was a vain military official, (but Tao Qian) was required to greet him in appropriate garb. Qian said, "I cannot, for five pecks of rice, bow at the waist." The same day he returned his seal of office and returned home. Writing these lyrics and broadcasting them as a string-accompanied song caused people to be clear and stern. A thousand years later it can still arouse people's interest.

Music and lyrics (see 看五線譜 staff notation; 聽錄音 listen; watch video with singing)
One Section (sectioning below follows the logic of the music)
A largely syllabic setting of the famous poem by Tao Yuanming (365-427). The poem can be translated as follows:14

Gui qu lai xi, tian yuan jiang wu, hu bu gui?
Come away home!
      My fields and garden will be full of weeds, how can I not go back?

Ji zi yi xin wei xing yi, xi chou chang er du bei.
It was myself who put my mind into bondage,
      so why go on being sad and lonely?

Wu yi wang zhi bu jian, zhi lai zhe zhi ke zhui.
I understand that what is already past cannot be rebuked,
      but know the future's possibilities.

Shi mi tu qi wei yuan, jue jin shi er zuo fei.
In fact this wrong road has not taken me so far,
      and what I now realize is correct, while yesterday I was wrong.

Zhou yao yao yi qing yang, feng piao piao er chui yi.
My boat wobbles about in the light breeze,
      the wind swirls as it blows my clothing.

(泛音起 harmonics begin)
Wen zheng fu yi qian lu, hen chen guang zhi xi wei.
I ask a traveler about the road ahead,
      and resent that the early morning light is still dim.

Nai zhan heng yu.
Then I see my family home!

Zai xin zai ben, tong pu huan ying.
Filled joy, filled with urgency, my servants welcome me;

Zhi zi hou men, san jing jiu huang.
My offspring at the gate; the
three paths are almost overgrown;

Song ju you cun, zui you ru shi, you jiu ying zun.
but the pines and chrysanthemums are still here; leading the youngsters, I enter the house;
      Where there's a wine-filled goblet.

Yin hu shang yi zi zhuo, mian ting ke yi yi yan.
I take up the bottle and cups to pour myself a drink,
      Gazing at the courtyard trees makes me flushed with pleasure

Yi nan chuang yi ji ao, shen rong xi zhi yi an.
I lean on the south window to savor my pride,
      And wonder how such cramped quarters can be so comfortable.

Yuan ri she yi cheng qu, men sui she er chang guan.
In the garden daily I stroll to become content;
      the gate although in good shape is always closed.

Ce fu lao yi liu qi, shi jiao shou er xia guan.
I poke around with my old man's cane as I wander and relax,
      sometimes lifting my head to gaze into the distance.
(泛音止 harmonics end)

Yun wu xin yi chu xiu, niao juan fei er zhi huan.
The clouds randomly float up from the mountain tops,
      and the birds, weary of flying, instinctively return home.

Jing yi yi yi jiang ru, fu gu song er pan huan.
Shadows darken as the sun prepares to set;
      caressing a solitary pine I tarry long.

(泛音起 harmonics begin)
Gui qu lai xi! Qing xi jiao yi jue you.
Come away home!
      Please end outside relationships and stop wandering.

Shi yu wo er xiang wei, fu jia yan xi yan qiu?
Society and I are mutually opposed;
      if again I made to leave what would I be seeking?
(泛音止 harmonics end)

Yue qin qi zhi qing hua, le qin shu yi xiao you.
I enjoy relatives' intimate conversation,
      and am happy to have my qin and books to dispel melancholy.

Nong ren gao yu yi chun ji, jiang you shi yu xi chou.
Farmers tell me when spring's arrival
      means there will be things to do in the eastern fields.

Huo ming jin che, huo zhao gu zhou.
Perhaps I reserve a covered wagon, or row a solitary boat.

Ji yao yao yi xun huo, yi qi qu er jing qiu.
I go to secluded places to seek out a ravine,
      or to a rugged path for traversing a hill.

Mu xin xin yi xiang rong, quan juan juan er shi liu.
Trees are joyous as they become luxuriant,
      and springs bubble up as they begin to flow forth.

Shan wan wu zhi de shi, gan wu sheng zhi xing xiu.
A appreciate how all of creation follows the seasons,
      and I am moved by my life's going its full cycle.

Yi yi hu!
That's enough!

Yu xing yu nei, (neng) fu ji shi? He bu wei xin ren qu liu?
Having this human form within the universe: can we really ever return?
      So why not let the heart allow itself to abandon restraint?

Hu wei hu? Huang huang yu he zhi?
      What is all this bustling about? Whatever is it we want?

Fu gui fei wu yuan, di xiang bu ke ji.
For wealth I have no desire;
      for the realm of the gods I have no expectation.

Huai liang chen yi gu wang, huo zhi zhang er yun zi.
I cherish lovely mornings for solitary walks;
      perhaps sticking a staff in the ground to weed and hoe.

Deng dong gao yi shu xiao, lin qing liu er fu shi.
Climbing the east ridge where I can comfortably whistle,
      or sit beside clear streams where I can compose poetry.

Liao cheng hua yi gui jin. Le fu tian ming, fu xi yi?
Thus I go along with my fate until I return to its completion.
      I celebrate heaven's decree: how could there be more?

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a
separate page)

1. Gui Qu Lai Ci 歸去來辭
16714.30 Essay by 陶潛 Tao Qian. There are many translations, but in spite of its popularity as a qin melody it does not appear in any of the common transcription books, either as a pure qin melody or qin song.

2. Mode
Taigu Yiyin does not directly indicate tuning or mode.

3. Image: Gui Qu Lai Ci, 倣錢選 in style of Qian Xuan (1235-1305)
The original is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (details).

4. Text for Gui Qu Lai Ci
An annotated version of the Chinese text is in the Haixiao Chubanshiye edition of Wen Xuan.

5. Chaisang (Mulberry Firewood)
柴桑 Chaisang is in 潯陽 Xunyang, an area near 九江 Jiujiang, on the south bank of the Yangzi river in Jiangxi province. I have not read of any tourist sites here but near Nanping in Anhui province there is a memorial park commemorating a place claimed as an ancestral home of Tao Qian's descendants. See, e.g.,

7. Most common modern version of Gui Qu Lai Ci
The version of Gui Qu Lai Ci most commonly played today is the one from 1589 (or the identical one copied in 1802). This is the version in the Chinese Conservatory Syllabus (IV/60-62), where it is said to be 劉景韶打譜、傳授 the transmission of a reconstruction by Liu Jingshao. Because the melody is in the part of the 1589 handbook called Taigu Yiyin (#13) some sources seem to obscure its difference from the present version in the 1511 Taigu Yiyin.

Meanwhile, the recording made in 1934 by 稱獨清 Cheng Duqing is of the virtually identical 1802 version and so that one is linked here. A Liu Jingshao recording is also available, but it was made in 1980, hence with nylon-metal strings. With current information it is difficult to know whether Liu's "reconstruction" means that he was basically doing his rhythmic interpretation of a melody he had heard, aligning it with the 1689 tablature. Was Cheng Duqing doing the same? Liu's interpretation and that of Cheng are quite different in rhythm. If, as today, the melody was generally played without the lyrics, it seems quite possible there was a great variety of ways of playing it - or equally that it was rarely played at that time. Perhaps a closer examination of the melodies in the chart that say they are related to 1589 will give a better idea of changes that might have occurred over the centuries (see also next footnote).

8. Tracing Gui Qu Lai Ci (tracing chart)
Zha Fuxi Guide 13/145/251 lists versions in 25 handbooks from 1425 to 1961 but does not include 1551, 1556 and quite a few later ones.

From the tracing chart you can quite clearly distinguish five versions of Gui Qu Lai Ci, with the first and third being the most similar to each other:

  1. From 1511 (recording), the earliest known version; it very closely related to most versions through 1585.
  2. A new setting introduced in 1546 and occuring in four handbooks that also have other melodies that seem especially connected.
  3. The 1589 version, still quite closely related to that of 1511 but with some distinctive new characterists, such as the following:
    • Adds a 撞猱 zhuang nao (立/犭) on first note;
    • On 奚惆 adds 注 before 奚 and 上 after 惆; this provides a distinctive motif found throughout the melody;
    • Repeats music of 乃瞻衡宇,載欣載奔; this pattern, repeated, makes it quite distinctive from my undertanding of 1511 whereby "乃瞻衡宇" stands out alone.
    This 1589 version seems to have been the dominant type right until the present (numerous recordings).
  4. The new 1647 setting by Yin Ertao (there called Yin Zhixian); it seems to have had a degree of popularity, later appearing in at least 7 of the handbooks. However, it was apparently last seen in 1884.
  5. The version from Qinxue Congshu (1910), included in Wang Di's Xian Ge Ya Yun (p.202-206) and recorded by Yang Baoyuan (see also the comment with this link below). This version is actually different in some confusing ways. It begins in a somewhat different manner: the indication at the front is that it uses a different tuning (lowered third string), and then the first phrase is musically different. However, the tuning instructions seem actually to be conflicting: "不轉絃換曼三絃一徽 Don't change the strings; change lower the third string one position". And the tablature itself clearly requires standard tuning, not lowered third string tuning (e.g., pairing for the word 遙 in 舟遙遙以輕颺 calls for the open 6th string to play together with the 3rd string stopped in the tenth position: clearly standard tuning). And after the first phrase the melody itself becomes for a while quite similar to that of other versions, but then it veers off separately again.

Finally, there is no connection between Gui Qu Lai Ci and the melody called Gui Lai Yue introduced in Taiyin Xisheng (1625).

9. Alternate lyrics for Gui Qu Lai Ci with lyrics: Lianshe Yin
Kumuchan Qinpu (1893) included a version of this melody but set it to Buddhist lyrics; it also changed the name to Lianshe Yin   (further comment).

10. Alternate melodies for Gui Qu Lai Ci with lyrics
The tracing chart below indicates alternate melodies. However, some of these might actually be variations rather than different melodies.

11. Recordings of Gui Qu Lai Ci with lyrics
There are a few on YouTube, a few with singing. Almost all are to the modern version. The links above to my recordings include one to a video where I sing the lyrics.

12. Paintings on this theme
For example, the Honolulu Academy of Arts has a 歸去來辭圖 painting called Gui Qu Lai Ci by 陳洪綬 Chen Hongshou. The one shown here, from the Metropolitan Museum of New York, is said to have been done in imitation of one by 錢選 Qian Xuan.

13. Original preface 歸去來辭 太古遺音解題
The original preface is as follows:


English translation not finalized.

Meanwhile, the Tao Yuanming himself included a more complete preface with his original poem. Here it is, with a copy of the translation by Knechtes from the article mentioned above (footnotes omitted).

Let Me Return!

My family was poor, and ploughing and planting were not sufficient to supply my needs. Young children filled the house, but in the jar, there was no store of grain. To obtain what I needed to sustain them, the means were not apparent to me. My kinsmen and friends often urged me to become a senior subaltern. Feeling a sense of relief, I thought of doing so, but I did not have the means to seek one. It happened that there were various incidents throughout the realm, and the regional officials considered the benevolent care for the people a virtue. A paternal uncle, because of my impoverished state subsequently informed [someone], and I became employed in a minor county. At that time the storm had not abated, and I was wary of serving in a distant post. Pengze was one hundred leagues from my home, but the yield from the government fields was sufficient to make wine. Thus, I then requested the post. By the time I had been in the position a few days, with deep longing I had the desire to return home. Why was this? My basic nature is that of spontaneity, and it is nothing that can be forced or tempered. Although hunger and cold are acute, going against my principles causes me distress. In the past when I engaged in human affairs, it was always because I put myself at the service of my mouth and stomach. Thus, I was chagrined and indignant, deeply ashamed that I had violated my long-held ideals. I still expected to remain another year, and then straighten my clothes and slip away in the night. But soon thereafter, my younger sister Madame Cheng passed away in Wuchang. My feeling at the time was to go there as quickly as possible, and thus of my own volition I resigned office and left. From mid-autumn to winter, I had been in office eighty-odd days. Given that this circumstance suited my wishes, I have written a piece titled “Let Me Return!” The eleventh month of the year yisi [December 405].

余家貧, 耕植不足以自給, 幼稚盈室, 缾無儲粟。生生所資, 未見其術。親故多勸余為長吏, 脫然有懷, 求之靡途。會有四方之事, 諸侯以惠愛為德, 家叔以余貧苦, 遂見用為小邑。于時風波未靜, 心憚遠役, 彭澤去家百里, 公田之利, 。足以為酒, 故便求之。及少日, 眷然有歸歟之情。何則? 質性自然, 非矯勵所得。飢凍雖切, 違己交病。嘗從人事. 皆口腹自役。於是悵然慷慨, 深愧平生之志。猶望一稔, 當歛裳宵逝。尋程氏妹喪于武昌, 情在駿奔, 自免去職。仲秋至冬, 在官八十餘日。因事順心, 命篇曰歸去來兮。乙巳歲十一月也。

Knechtges ends his article by making some comparisons between Tao Yuanming's poem and one by the Roman poet Horace that "praise the delights of country living".

14. Glossary for original lyrics
The original Chinese lyrics are included above along with the translation.


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Appendix: Chart Tracing 歸去來辭 Gui Qu Lai Ci
Further comment
above; based mainly on Zha Fuxi's Guide 13/145/251.

    (year; QQJC Vol/page)
Further information
(QQJC = 琴曲集成 Qinqu Jicheng; QF = 琴府 Qin Fu)
  1. 謝琳太古遺音
      (1511; I/301)
1L; no mode indicated;
Music begins, "大九厂七、六,散勾四,大九跳六吟...."
  2. 發明琴譜
      (1530; I/350)
5L; Gui Qu Ci; shang yin; same lyrics, similar music;
Under the title is the comment "晉陶淵明作 by Tao Yuanming"
  3. 風宣玄品
      (1539; II/188)
5L; shang mode; same lyrics similar music
  4. 梧岡琴譜
      (1546; I/421)
6L; 商曲 shang melody; same lyrics but melody seems completely different;
Music begins in harmonics: "泛音,無名九跳四,勾一,食七勾二,無名九跳四...."
  5. 步虛僊琴譜
      (1556; #14)
5; shang; almost same as 1511 but no lyrics
  6. 太音傳習
      (1552; IV/93)
5; shang; music like 1511 but no lyrics
  7. 太音補遺
      (1557; III/338)
6; music as 1546 but no lyrics; comment under title: "居(? 据?)考無吟以俟後之君子
It seems the original had no music - this awaited a later gentleman." (?)
  8. 琴譜正傳
      (1561; II/427)
6L; shang melody, identical to 1546
  9. 新刊正文對音捷要
      (1573; #16)
Gui Qu Ci; same as 1585?
10. 五音琴譜
      (1579; IV/220)
4; shang like 1511 but no lyrics
11. 重修真傳琴譜
      (1585; IV/367)
6TL; Gui Qu Ci; quite similar to 1511;
12. 真傳正宗琴譜
      (1589; VII/78 ("太古遺音")
6TL; shang yin; still related but many differences; this edition later taken to Japan?
This is the most common modern version (
recording by Cheng Duqing); see new characteristics
    . 真傳正宗琴譜
      (1609; Fac/)
Presumably same as 1589
13. 文會堂琴譜
      (1596; VI/208)
5; lyrics and music like 1511
14. 陽春堂琴譜
      (1611; VII/455)
6TL; lyrics and music start like 1589
15. 理性元雅
      (1618; VIII/222)
6L; shang; same lyrics; first phrase different, then it is related to 1589
Begins, "散跳四,散勾二,散跳六,大九勾三...."
16. 樂仙琴譜
      (1623; VIII/429)
6L; shang; compare lyrics and music to 1589
17. 徽言秘旨
      (1647; X/260)
4 sections; gong yin; same lyrics but written at end of each section; new melody;
Music begins in harmonics: "泛音,中十勾一,無名十勾二,勾四,大九跳六...."
    . 徽言秘旨訂
      (1692; fac/)
Same as 1647; so why does 2000, which is
related to 1589, say it is the tablature of Yin Zhixian?
18. 和文注音琴譜
      (<1676; XII/178)
6LT; lyrics and music seem copied from 1589, including 撞猱 on the first note;
One of the few pieces in a Japanese handbook with a melody also in Chinese handbooks
19. 東皋琴譜
      (1709; XII/274)
Seems identical to 1676
20. 一峰園琴譜
      (1709; XIII/499)
6L; missing section 1 and title line of 2;
Seems same as 1589 but with section comments instead of titles
21. 春草堂琴譜
      (1744; XVIII/245)
4; gong yin; same lyrics; music as 1647;
"尹芝僊新譜 new tablature of Yin Zhixian"
22. 酣古齋琴譜
      (n.d.; XVIII/413)
6L; shangyin; lyrics same as 1511; compare music to 1589
23. 自遠堂琴譜
      (1802; XVII/527)
6L; zhiyin; same as 1589
Recording by Cheng Duqing  
24. 太和正音琴譜
      (1812; XIX/29)
1; zhi; same lyrics; compare melody to 1618;
Begins, "散勾二、三,勾剔四,跳五、四,無名十勾二,散跳四...."
25. 裛露軒琴譜
      (>1802; XIX/143)
6L; shangyin; "Taigu Yi Yin" (1589), i.e., should be same lyrics and music as 1589
26. 琴學軔端
      (1828; XX/434)
4; gong yin; seems to come from 1647
27. 張鞠田琴譜
      (1844; XXIII/262)
4; Gui Qu Lai; gong diao gong yin;
Seems to come from 1647
28. 師白山房琴譜
      (n.d.; XXIV/14)
6TL; same lyrics; compare 1589/1614/etc.;
Begins, "散跳五、四,無名十勾二,散跳四...."
29. 琴學入門
      (1864; XXIV/328)
ZLJGY; lyrics same; music setting from 1647
Afterword says "尹芝僊新譜 new tablature of Yin Zhixian"
30. 希韶閣琴譜
      (1878; XXVI/333)
4; gongyin; like 1589; lyrics at the end of each section
31. 枕經葄史山房雜抄
      (>1881; XXVII/119)
4; gongyin; related to 1647
Afterword says new tablature of Yin Zhixian
32. 養性堂琴譜
      (n.d.; XXVII/363)
6L; gongyin; music similar to 1589 (elaborated), lyrics same
33. 綠綺清韻
      (1884; XXVII/396)
4; gongyin; from 1647;
"尹芝僊新譜 new tablature of Yin Zhixian"
34. 希韶閣琴瑟合譜
      (1890; XXVI/433)
1; related to 1589; tablature "獅山女史琴譜 qinpu of a cultured lady from Lion Mountain" (?)
Has se tablature together with the lyrics and qin tablature
35. 枯木禪琴譜
      (1893; XXVIII/143)
6; zhi yin; 蓮社引 Lianshe Yin;
Music like 1589 but has Buddhist lyrics!; further details
    . 琴學初津
      (1894; XXVIII/349)
3; 樂天操 Le Tian Cao; 1961 has this as an alternate title for Gui Qu Lai Ci;
but melody is unrelated and no lyrics; no other occurrences of this title found
36. 琴學叢書
      (1910; XXX/210)
6; "lowered 3rd string tuning"? See comment! Listen to a recording by Yang Baoyuan
Sometimes related, but quite a different melody: begins, "散勾四,勾五,跳七,大九勾四...."
37. 琴學管見
      (n.d.; XXIX/256)
6; shang yin; standard lyrics, music seems to be from 1589
38. 山西育才館雅樂講義
6; 慢宮調宮音; says non-standard tuning but actually comes from 1802, i.e., same as 1589
(Info from Zha Guide: not indexed and not in QQJC)
39. 研易習琴齋琴譜
      (1961; I#3)
6L; ZLJZY; still same lyrics; "also called 樂天操 Le Tian Cao"; "as 尹芝僊 Yin Zhixian (see 1647) revised from 1589"
The Le Tian Cao in 1894 is unrelated
40. 愔愔室琴譜
      (2000; p.49)
6L; "standard tuning"; "尹芝僊作 by Yin Zhixian" (i.e., from 1647);
Attribution is confusing: music is similar to "standard" version, but Yin Zhixian is connected to 1647

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