20 Things Ancient Chinese Poets Taught Me

1. A good staff is handy in the mountains, as is a bottle of wine, as is the rising moon.

2. Dangling a fishhook off a flat rock in the middle of a river for all eternity may or may not be possible but it’s worth a try.

3. It’s better to be addicted to moss than wealth, sex, or fame.

4. Few joys rival walking an old path in new weather.

5. A cloud can eat ten thousand pines, an entire valley, the sky, and your name.

6. A cloud can also be worn as a jacket.

7. Even when clouds are metaphors they remain clouds.

8. Ditto for ringing bells.

9. Trust ferns.

10. On a calm lake at night one can row a small wooden boat across the stars.

11. Watching plum blossoms come and go makes people very happy but also very sad.

12. Ditto for cherry blossoms.

13. Ditto for peach blossoms.

14. When feeling homesick while traveling pay attention to the local birds because they carry a piece of the land you miss in their mouths as a song.

15. Winter is a mood as well as a season.

16. There are places worth visiting that can only be reached by sitting silently in an empty room.

17. A paw print in the mud is enough.

18. A red leaf curled at the edges is more than enough.

19. A book of poems and a pot of tea are almost too much to handle.

20. A ringing bell is a ringing bell.


Leath Tonino is the author of The Animal One Thousand Miles Long, a collection of essays about adventures in the Northeast. A second collection, The West Will Swallow You, will be released this fall.


  1. I love this–contemplative, wry, and full of feeling. The Ennumeration feature has so much potential but I’ve found many recent iterations underwhelming, slight, or cliched. Torino’s version renews my hopes for the form. Thank you!

  2. I Love these 20 Truths! #19 blew me away, because it’s so me!

    Here follow a couple of my enumeratons – –
    Pine cones and certain stone can be your best friends.
    They can travel with you.

    Viewing a newly risen full moon can stop you in your tracks.
    Ditto any just rising orange golden moon just clearing the horizon.

  3. I still say this is worth the annual subscription all by itself. What Chinese poets to you read?

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