Discover the peaceful tranquility of Peach Blossom Spring in this story originally told 1,700 years ago by the poet Tao Qian.
Narrator: How about a story? Just sit back, relax, and get ready to listen, because it's Story Time at the Met.
This story takes place in China, long, long ago. In the ancient city of Wu-ling lived a fisherman. One day this fisherman set sail along a river, looking for fish to catch.
As he followed the stream, the fisherman lost track of where he was. Without realizing it, he sailed farther than he'd ever gone before. All at once, he found himself floating through a beautiful forest of blossoming peach trees.
The flowers on the peach trees filled the air with fluttering petals and a delicate fragrance. The fisherman sailed on to where the peach grove ended. And there he found a spring of fresh water flowing out of the ground beside a hill. The fisherman thought, "I will call this place Peach Blossom Spring."
Then he saw an opening in the hillside, like the mouth of a cave. Light glimmered inside the cavern. So the fisherman left his boat to investigate.
Inside the hill was a passageway so narrow that he had to turn sideways and inch his way through. After a few dozen steps, the fisherman came out into the light of day again. He found himself in a strange new land filled with fields, orchards, and gardens. Footpaths flowed through the countryside, from one beautiful, old house to another. People bustled everywhere, hard at work. But everyone wore a smile.
Then a woman saw the fisherman. "Who are you," she asked, "and where did you come from?" When he told her his story, the woman invited him back to her home for dinner. As they went home, she told friends, "Here's a stranger from the outside world!" The news spread and people came from miles around to meet the fisherman. They told him how their forefathers had discovered this hidden world long ago and that none of them had ever been outside. "What's it like out there now?" they asked. The fisherman told them how kings and empires came and went, how nations made war, and sickness and hunger threatened the world. The people answered, "Please don't tell the outside world about us. Let us go on living here in peace."
But as the fisherman crept back through the hillside, he decided he had to tell the world about this place. He marked the location of the spring along the riverbank so he could find his way back. Then he sailed home and told the authorities what he'd seen. The fisherman took witnesses back along the river to show them the place. But they never found the marks the fisherman had left, or the peach grove, or the spring. And since that time, no one has found the way to Peach Blossom Spring.
The poet Tao Qian told this story around seventeen hundred years ago. Since that time, many Chinese writers have described the world of nature as peaceful and happy, like the world of Peach Blossom Spring. People with lots of worries and responsibilities—like the men who served the Chinese emperor—built gardens in their homes to remind them of the world of nature. Their gardens had walls to shut out the city with its noise and distractions—what writers called "the dusty world."
You can escape from the dusty world next time you visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Ask for directions to the Astor Court. Inside the Astor Court you'll find a re-created Chinese scholar's garden. You can enter the garden through a round door called a "moon gate." It's like going into a cave and coming out in another world, like the fisherman in "Peach Blossom Spring." Inside you'll find a courtyard with a spring of water—another reminder of the story. Look around the courtyard for big rocks standing like statues. These rocks came from the bottom of a lake. Water eroded them into strange and fantastic shapes. Chinese scholars collected these rocks as examples of the perfect beauty found in nature.
Thanks for listening to Story Time at the Met.
This has been an Antenna Audio production.