DU FU

du fuIntroduction

Du Fu (AD 712-70), the greatest poet of a country devoted to poetry, believed himself a failure. He gained little distinction in the official examinations, but remained a minor civil servant who was then uprooted by the An Lu-shan rebellion that destroyed the first Tang dynasty.

He was usually poor, and occasionally close to starvation. The major turning points in his life were his meeting and friendship with Li Po (701-62), and the civil war, which opened his eyes to the sufferings of the common people. Li Po (or Li Bai) was the greater technician — an astonishing technician — but it's Du Fu's humanity that speaks across the centuries

Classical Chinese poetry is well known through translations by Ezra Pound, Arthur Waley and others. Pound's theories were wrong, unfortunately, and however beautiful the translations, they convey almost nothing of the original. Chinese is a compact but allusive language, and its poetry employs devices every bit as complex as European: metre, rhyme, allusion, imagery, etc. Classical Chinese poetry is emphatically not written as "free verse", and in fact has demanding rules and traditions of its own. Some flavour of the original can be obtained by reading up on Chinese conceptions of poetry, and then listening to the poetry being read while looking at parallel texts. It'll be an introduction to the difficulties of translation, and perhaps a door to a very different civilization.

Chinese poetry often attempts to express what cannot really be said. Extended verse narratives or dramas are rare, and the Chinese conceive poetry as a distillation of allusions to contemporary life and past literature. Or some do. In fact, Chinese aesthetics is as various as ours, though employing very different perspectives. Only the western concept of tragedy remains undeveloped, as the Chinese do not admire the individual who pits himself against the world. For a larger view of Chinese thought try E. Eoyang's Translating Chinese Literature (1995), T. Huter's Culture and State in Chinese History (1998), I.P. McGreal's Great Thinkers of the Eastern World (1995) and Fung Yu-Lan's A Short History of Chinese Philosophy (1948/76).

Bibliographies are given in the Chinese Poetry section of the The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics. Readable introductions to Chinese poetry include Neinhuaser, Hartman and Galer's The Indiana Companion to Traditional Chinese Literature (1998), A. Cooper's Li PO and Tu Fu (1973), J.J.Y. Liu's The Art of Chinese Poetry (1962). B.S. Miller's Masterworks of Asian Literature (1994), B. Watson's The Columbia Book of Chinese Poetry (1984), S. Owen's The Great Age of Chinese Poetry (1977) W-L. Yip's Chinese Poetry (1997) and A.C. Graham's Poems of the Late T'ang (1965).

Suggestion: Poems of the Masters : China's Classic Anthology of T'ang and Sung Dynasty Verse. Bill Porter. Copper Canyon Press. 2003. $14.96.

A rendering into English of a classic Chinese anthology of poetry. Excellent introduction and notes. Free verse translations, with the Chinese original on the facing page.

Learning Chinese

Learning Chinese

Chinese can be learned from books, CDs, tapes and online courses at many sites: a small sample: wenlin, teaching and learning chinese, and about.

There are also free Internet sites that will help you on your way, though Chinese does need extended effort: learning chinese online, conversational mandarin online, minmm, zhongwen, online chinese tools, chinese cultural learning series and academicinfo.

English-Chinese-English dictionaries can be found at: tigernt, mandarin tools, mdbg, etc.

Machine translation can be helpful, though you will need some grammar to correct the rendering: omnilang, free translation, google, babelfish, and worldlingo.

Some useful language exchanges: friends abroad, xlingo, mylanguage exchange, polyglot learn language, and lingozone.

Sites with good book selections are questia, abebooks, china on site, fetchbooks, chinese poems, bookfinder and chinasprout.

Chinese Poetry

For a larger view of Chinese thought try a.s.kline, traditional history, R M-W Choy's Read and Write Chinese (1900), E. Eoyang's Translating Chinese Literature (1995), T. Hunter's Culture and State in Chinese History (1998), I.P. McGreal's Great Thinkers of the Eastern World (1995) and Fung Yu-Lan's A Short History of Chinese Philosophy (1948/76). Some of the many sites on Chinese poetry are: chinese poems, like water or clouds, journal2, poem hunter, and chinese poems Good listings on Chinese culture include wikipedia and zhongwen. Bibliographies are given in the Chinese Poetry section of the The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, and here: fact monster, and selected english bibliography. Readable introductions to Chinese poetry include Neinhuaser, Hartman and Galer's The Indiana Companion to Traditional Chinese Literature (1998), J.J.Y. Liu's The Art of Chinese Poetry (1962). B.S. Miller's Masterworks of Asian Literature (1994), B. Watson's The Columbia Book of Chinese Poetry (1984), S. Owen's The Great Age of Chinese Poetry (1977) W-L. Yip's Chinese Poetry (1997) and A.C. Graham's Poems of the Late T'ang (1965). TreesWood Forest features old and new translations.

Du Fu

Readable introductions to Du Fu's poetry include Neinhuaser, Hartman and Galer's The Indiana Companion to Traditional Chinese Literature (1998), A. Cooper's Li Po and Tu Fu (1973), B.S. Miller's Masterworks of Asian Literature (1994), B. Watson's The Columbia Book of Chinese Poetry (1984), S. Owen's The Great Age of Chinese Poetry (1977) and A.C. Graham's Poems of the Late T'ang (1965).

Li Bai

Works specifically on Li Bai include D. Young's Five Tang Poets (1990), A. Waley's The Poetry and Career of Li Po (1950), A. Cooper's Li PO and Tu Fu (1974) and J. Hightower's Topics of Chinese Literature: Poetry and Career of Li PO (1950/53) and S. Elegant's A Floating Life: The Adventures of Li PO (2000).

Wang Wei

Books specifically on Wang Wei include D. Young's Five Tang Poets (1990), Chang and Waimsley's Poems by Wang Wei (1958), Wai-lim Yip's Hiding the Universe (1972) and G. Robinson's Poems by Wang Wei (1973).

 

C. John Holcombe   |  About the Author    | ©     2007 2012 2013 2015.   Material can be freely used for non-commercial purposes if properly referenced.