Tu Fu Poetry Essay, Research Paper
No other author we have read so far in this class has grabbed my attention and interest as Tu Fu did. It could be that as a history major I strive to discover what the past holds, and Tu Fu is an excellent primary source. Or it could be that I can relate to the Time of Troubles, since many of my family have perished in civil strife, concentration camps and war. Still, his poems are full of emotion, virtue, sincerity and realism. It is the latter that I will try to emphasize my paper on. Reality of the modern day USA is not the reality of the majority of the world, although it can be hard to remember that. The suffering of this world has not diminished greatly since 8th century, and on the other side, the pleasures remain the same. The reality of Tu Fu is our reality too.
While this short discourse probably won’t be up to par with works of contemporary and ancient scholars that have spent centuries analyzing Tu Fu, I still hold a droplet of hope that you will find the following text acceptable.
The chickens are letting out wild squawks
And while they still squabble the guests arrive -
We chase them into the trees
As a knock comes on the brushwood door:
It is four or five old men, come to ask after my long travels.
Each has brought something with him,
And out of their kettles come clear and dark wines.
They say, “Please don’t mind that the wine is thin,
We have no one to plow the millet fields,
The wars have not yet stopped,
And the young are all fighting to the east.”
I ask to sing for these elderly men,
These difficult timed – I feel shame before their deep feelings.
The song done, I look to heaven and sigh,
And on all sides the tears flow freely.
Tu Fu’s broken aspirations of a life as an upper class civil servant, combined with his life in the middle of war or in exile present us with an extraordinary example of realistic poetry. The third poem of a set entitled Ch’iang Village is analyzed in this paper to show how Tu Fu brings forward the description of common life during a civil war.
When the Tang ruled China, it was a cosmopolitan wonderland. The Mystic Emperor, Xuanzong (712-755) was an ardent patron of arts. Throughout his rule poetry flourished, but it was his downfall that created one of the most respected Chinese poets of all time. The An-Lushan rebellion features prominently in Tu Fu’s work. He gives us descriptions of rulers, governors and soldiers, but his reunion with his family after being stranded in the capital is really the one that grabs attention.
Ch’iang Village is a set of three poems that starts out with an emotional reunion of him and his wife and children. It was written about a year after the beginning of the rebellion. Both capitals were already taken and Tu Fu was behind enemy lines. When he escaped, as a true Confucianist he made his way to the emperor and not his family. It was only after he was granted leave, he made his way to this now famous village to see them. The last poem of the set (see above) describes him after he has already settled in. It is not a depressing poem, but it shows the strain that the rebellion has placed on everyone, no matter how distant from the fighting.
Tu Fu starts out with a description of chickens and they chaos they cause (he makes it so easy to imagine), a regular rural occasion, not even worth mentioning. But it is just a trick to make us think everything is okay, everyone is happy. Then a knock, and some people enter. They are not soldiers or bloodthirsty rebels. They are simply some elders who came to pay their respects. They brought a bit of wine (see, the pleasures are still the same) and they want to hear about his travels, his adventures. Or do they? May be they would like to find out the fate of their children. It turns out all the young are away, some fighting, some dying. The fields are going unplowed, a symbol of the extra load work placed on the people still left in the village. But line 11, “The wars have not yet stopped” makes you think about the sense of Confucianist duty Tu Fu feels. Subjects of the emperor must fulfill their duty, and sooner or later the war will be over and everything will go back to normal. There is no contempt for the war, but more an acceptance of the inevitable. And yet Tu Fu feels ashamed. Is it because he just came back from the emperor’s court and is associated with the struggle, or is it because he himself is not fighting while the elder’s children are? Or could it be the same kind of shame and guilt a survivor of a car crash feels before the parents of his friend, who perished in that same wreck? Whatever the answer is, they all feel for each other and “tears flow freely”.
Ch’iang Village brings forward compassion for others and it has a really humane, warm touch. What starts out with ignorant chickens ends with tears. The emotions the elders feel get transposed onto Tu Fu himself. He is no stranger to adversity; he too was separated from his family. And yet instead of showing his strength to them, he cries with them. This is the kind of realism that grabs you and won’t let go and this is the reason that 13 centuries later we can still relate to Tu Fu’s poetry.