Tu Fu

It is Tu Fu’s ability to express clearly, daringly, the nature of his knowledge of himself that makes him the greatest of the great.


Tu Fu is China’s greatest poet. He is a better poet than Li Po, his only real rival for the mythical laurels, simply because he is a better man. Young readers, attracted by the truly wonderful imagination, the monumental whimsy and the unbelievable poetic skill that Li Po brings to the expression of his simply incredible joie de vivre will always disagree, but they will not always be young.

almost every poem displays the poet involved in a conscious effort to put his political and social ideals into practice. The degree to which Tu Fu’s ideals and aspirations coincide with his personality, with his life as it is lived, is certainly part of what marks him as a truly great man. The fact that he is a great poet in a technical sense, that is, that he is a master of the art of communication through the use of written language, is probably finally the reason why we see a great good man beneath the works. Tu Fu is a chun tzu, a gentleman made fit to govern by virtue of his education, his wen, a skill in communication, as well as a quality of being, created by the studies of classical Confucianism, philosophical Taoism, and the T’ang’s most popular brand of “liberal” Buddhism, the school known as T’ian T’ai.

(Tu Fu’s poems) show the seamlessness of Tu Fu’s understanding of both the existential quality of a human life, and the moral necessity of a humane one. It seems to me that it is Tu Fu’s ability to express clearly, daringly, the nature of his knowledge of himself that makes him the greatest of the great. Like T’ao Ch’ien before him and Yuan Mei after; he was proud to be who he has made himself, to have accomplished what his place in the world and the world in his times would allow him to accomplish, to claim no more, and to show no less. For me, these are the things that make him not just the great Chinese poet, but by means of poetry, show him to have been one of the truly greatest of humane persons in this world, among all times.

 

Tu Fu and Li Po 

Looking at Mount Tai

How is Mountain Tai?
Its green is seen beyond State Qi and State Lu,
a distillation of creation’s spirit and beauty.
Its slopes split day into yin and yang.
Its rising clouds billow in my chest.
Homecoming birds fly through my wide-open eyes.
I should climb to the summit
and in one glance see all other mountains dwarfed.

Tony Barnstone

Moonlight Night

Moon of this night, in Fu-chou,
Alone in your chamber you gaze.
Here, far away, I think of the children,
Too young to remember Longpeace…
Fragrant mist, moist cloud of your hair.
In that clear light, your arms jade cool.
When, again to lean together, by your curtain there,
Alight alike, until our tears have dried.

J.P. Seaton


Brimming Water

Under my feet the moon
Glides along the river.
Near midnight, a gusty lantern
Shines in the heart of night.
Along the sandbars flocks
Of white egrets roost,
Each one clenched like a fist.
In the wake of my barge
The fish leap, cut the water,
And dive and splash.

Kenneth Rexroth

 

Return to Chiang Village

Shaggy red clouds in the west-
the sun’s foot is down to level earth.
By the wicker gate, sparrows are chirping.
The traveler returns from over a thousand li.
Wife and children panic at my presence;
quieted, they still wipe tears.
In this age of turmoil, I floated and meandered.
A miracle of chance to return alive!
Neighbors crowd the fence tops
and also sigh and sob.
In the deep night, we are again holding candles,
facing each other as in a dream.

Arthur Sze