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.
Looking at Mount Tai
How is Mountain Tai?
Moon of this night, in Fu-chou,
Under my feet the moon
Return to Chiang Village
Shaggy red clouds in the west-