Classical Chinese Poetry with a modernist face – 2

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By 2017-09-24

By Prof. Wimal Dissanayake

Tu Fu had a remarkable ability combine natural beauty and human feeling in interesting and complex ways. The following poem titled Autumn Night establishes this point admirably. The translation is by the distinguished American poet W.S. Merwin.

The dew falls, the sky is a long way up, the brimming waters are quiet
On the empty mountain in the companionless night
Alone in the distance the ships lantern lights upon motionless sail
The new moon is mirrored to the sky, the sound of the beetles
Comes to an end

The chrysanthemums have flowered men are lulling their sorrows to
Sleep
Step by step along the veranda, propped up on my stick, I keep
My eyes on the Great Bear
In the distance the celestial river leads to the town.

Tu Fu, from his early days as a poet, displayed an uncanny ability to capture the life and energy of the natural environment. The following is one of his early poems. It is called Gazing at the Sacred Park.

For all this, what is the mountain god like.
An unending green of lands north and south
From ethereal beauty creation distils
There, yin and yang split dusk and dawn

Swelling clouds sweep by. Returning birds
Ruin my eyes vanishing. One day soon,
At the summit, the other mountains will be
Small enough to hold all in a singular glance.

Here is another poem in a similar mold. It is called Visiting Feng-Hsien Temple at Lung-men.
I leave the temple, but stay another
Night nearby. The dark valley all empty
Music, moonlight scatters lucid
Shadows among trees. Heaven's Gap

Cradles the planets and stars. I sleep
Among clouds – and stirring my clothes
Cold, hear the first bell sound
Morning for those waking that deeply.

One of the strengths of Tu Fu as a lyric poet was his ability to reconfigure economically and movingly the impact of natural beauty on human consciousness the following are the opening lines of his poem Meandering River.
Every fallen petal
Diminishes spring

So the wind showers down a thousand
Just to make me sad

I'll keep my eyes
On the ones that remain

And have some wine
Whether it's good for ne or not

Kingfishers nest
In the ruins b the river
A stone unicorn
Lies on its side in the park

Nature says, enjoy yourself
And doesn't waste time

Why worry hen
About things like rank and office

It is an indisputable fact that Tu Fu, like many other classical poets such as Li Po and Wang Wei, composed exquisitely attractive nature poems that, in their intense moments, soared into the higher reaches of sublimity. A defining trait of Tu Fu' s nature poetry is his dexterity in locating human beings in the natural world and setting in motion a tension, and harmony at the same time between the two entities. This desire gains greater visibility in his later poetry. We observe how Tu Fu is perpetually straining to make sense of the phenomenal world and privileging human efforts to an integral and constitutive factor in this endeavor. For him, entering into the being of a perceived object is to enter into oneself. To be sure, his strivings did not always meet with hoped for success; however, his effort needs to be nored.in the following poem, which is called facing the snow, which is an early composition of his, we observe an unyielding attempt to impose a am order, pattern and graspable meaning on the flow of the phenomenal world.

In sorrow reciting poems, an old man alone
A tumult of clouds sinks downward in the sunset
Hard pressed, the snow dances in the whirlwinds,
Ladle cast down, no green lees in the cup
The brier lingers on m fire seems crimson.

( to be continued )

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