XII New Poetry (A)

新 诗(上)

The new literature of China, which began from the May 4th Movement, was a powerful wing of the Chinese New Democratic Revolution. Mao Zedong said, “The cultural revolution conducted by the May 4th Movement was a movement that thoroughly opposed imperialism and feudalism.” Being an important part of the cultural revolution, the new literature of China was filled with a thorough anti-imperial and anti-feudal spirit since the beginning.

New poetry came into being when the May 4th literature revolution had just set afoot; it served as a precursor of changes in other forms of literature. In January 1918 the [New Youth] magazine published for the first time the free style poems written in vernacular by Hu Shi, Liu Bannong, Shen Yinmo and others. Gradually, there were more and more people who responded to this initiative on newspaper literature supplements and magazines. Among all forms of new literature, new poetry was the first to bare fruits during the May 4th period. At that time, this was of militant significance. Without a victory for new poetry, the new literature could not obtain its orthodox position in the society. There were many that opposed the free style poetry. There were heated disputes on whether new poetry belonged to “civilians” or “aristocrat”. So, the promotion of new poetry not only broke the trammels of tonal patterns and rhyme schemes, advocated the usage of vernacular, but also contained deep anti-feudal significance. Lu Xun (鲁迅,1881-1936) introduced in 1907 the essence and spirit of the poems written by Byron, Shelley, A.S. Pushkin and M. I. Lermontov and Petofi Sander. His introduction gave a big push to the development of new poetry. He was mainly an essay writer and a novelist, yet he also wrote some new poetry during this period. To cater to the need of the people’s revolution, the poetry creation since the May 4th Movement inheriting in a creative way the national tradition of Chinese classical poetry and accepting the influence of outstanding foreign realist and romantic poetry. Aside from the free style and the usage of vernacular, the content new poetry covered was conspicuously new. For instance, the social consciousness of humanitarianism, sincere and healthy love, praise of labor and laboring people, eulogy of the spirit of revolt were often the themes of new poetry. These themes suited the surging revolutionary trend of thoughts. New poetry very quickly won the support of young readers.

 A photo of Hu Shi

“尝试集,Collection of Trials” published by Hu Shi was the first new poetry anthology in China. The collection included some poems refreshing in both content and form, yet most of his trials lacked deep and far-reaching conception. But, the form itself, as described by the poet himself, “smelt of blood at the foot-binding time.”

 A photo of Guo moruo

The genuine pioneer and founder of the art of new poetry was Guo Moruo (郭沫若,1892-1978). Guo is also a playwright, historian, archaeologist, palaeographist and a social activist. His poetry anthology “女神,Goddess” published in 1921 was most influential during the May 4th period. Aside from the preface poem, “Goddess” included 56 poems written between 1916 and 1921. His spirit of opposing the irrational society, his anti-feudal spirit that had been “burnt transparent by flames of revolt”, his overpowering, bold and unconstrained style and the free form deeply affected and encouraged the awakening young people. The anthology also laid a solid base for the development of new poetry. The stormy spirit of revolt as voiced in the poems “The Death of Victory” and “Ode to Bandits”, the zealous eulogy of the liberation of individuality and the positive and optimistic sentiment as expressed in the poems “The Heavenly Dog” and “The Sea of Ray”, the intense imprecation of the crime of warlords and the sentimental attachment to the motherland as conveyed by the poems “The Reborn of Goddess” and “Coal in the Stove”, the extollment of creating brightness and the longing for a future new life of motherland as presented by the poems “Pyramid” and “The Nirvana of Phoenix” roused excitement at the time among people and imbued spiritual strength into those young people who had warm revolutionary sentiment. Guo said he was greatly influenced by the democratic poet Walt Whitman. Now, let me quote a few lines from his “Sing Aloud while Standing on the Edge of the Earth”:

无数的白云在空中怒涌,                      wu shu de bai yun zai kong zhong nu yong,
啊啊!好幅壮丽的北冰洋的晴景哟!           Ah, ah, hao fu zhuang li de bei bing yang de qing jing you!
无限的太平洋提起他全身的力量要把地球推倒, wu xian de tai ping yang ti qi ta quan shen de li liang yao ba di qiu tui dao,
啊啊!我眼前来了滚滚的洪涛哟!             Ah, ah, wo yan qian lai le gun gun de hong tao you!

Countless white clouds are rolling on furiously in the sky,
Ah ha! What a magnificent and clear scene of the Arctic!
The limitless Pacific will overturn the earth with all its might force,
Ah ha! The surging waves are coming towards me!

These lines, as the poems in the “Goddess”, are of a majestic artistic style. The burning fervor and the spirit of revolt in Guo’s poems marked the beginning of the romantic tradition of the new poetry since the May 4th period. After “Goddess”, other anthologies of Guo like “星空,The Star-lit Sky”, “前茅,Ranking First”, “恢复,Restoration” and so on were published. More radical and clear-cut revolutionary spirit was presented in these works, for instance, in “Early Morning of Shanghai” he cried out:

马路上,面的不是水门汀,                   ma lu shang, mian de bu shi shui men ting,
面的是劳苦人民的血汗与生命!               mian de shi lao ku ren min de xue han yu sheng ming!
血惨惨的生命呀,血惨惨的生命!             xue can can de sheng ming ya, xue can can de sheng ming!
在富儿们的汽车轮下…滚,滚,滚,…         zai fu er men de qi che lun xia…gun, gun, gun,…
兄弟们哟,我相信就在这静安寺路的马路中央, xiong di men you, wo xiang xin jiu zai zhe jing an si lu de ma lu zhong yang,
终会有剧烈的火山爆喷!                     zhong hui you ju lie de huo shan bao peng!

On the road surface it wasn’t cement,
On the surface, it was laboring people’s life, blood and sweat!
The bleeding lives, the bleeding lives!
Under the wheel of rich men’s car, they were being rolled over…
Brothers, I believe, in the center of this Jingan Temple Road,
A volcano would erupt violently one day!

In “I Thought of Chen Sheng and Wu Guang”, he sang praises of “farmers’ riot under the leadership of the working class.” We can see that the factors of socialist thinking gradually sank into him. Feng Naichao, a poetry critic, appraised Guo thus:

“Mr. Guo Moruo attained the highest achievement in and made the biggest contribution to China’s new poetry. Young students before 1930s were all his readers. His beautiful and novel lines, as a great teacher, nurtured the young generation. He molded a typical ancient revolting figure as a model for young generations; he fostered the spirit of opposing rigid doctrines; he awakened our ancestor’s virtue of giving no regard to life or death for a righteous cause. All these are something young generations can learn from. He is one of the few who understand the pulse of today’s China and, at the same time, is well versed in the spirit of ancient China.”

Aside from Guo Moruo, there were also some young poets like Zhu Ziqing, Zheng Zhenduo, Wang Tongzhao and Xu Yuruo. They published an anthology entitled “The Snowy Morning”, which showed a natural and simple style. Zhu Ziqing was the most accomplished one among them. His long poem “毁灭,Extermination” described how young people, after the tide of the May 4th ebbed, resisted temptations, restored themselves to “an ordinary self” and then to “step firmly on the soil, and leave deep foot prints on it.” The poem rimmed with sincere feelings with a simple and honest style. It was very influential at the time.

There were some “Lakeside poets”, in this period, composed of Pan Mohua, Feng Xuefeng, Ying Xiuren and Wang Jingzhi. Since 1922, they published “Lakeside”, “Songs of Spring”, “Wind of Orchid”, “The Quiet State” and other collections. They were reputed by Zhu Ziqing as the four young poets who “really devoted whole-heartedly to the writing of love poems in China” where love poems were always “found lacking”. Many of their poems reflected how young people sought sweat life and dreams; they therefore contained obvious anti-feudal messages. A tide of creating short poems, as influenced by the Japanese 17-syllable form and the poems of R. Tagore of India, surged up. Bing Xin (冰心) was quite influential with her two anthologies “繁星,A Starry Sky” of 1922 and “春水,Spring Water” of 1923. Short as her poems were, they expressed the poet’s pondering on life and eulogy of natural beauty and a mother’s love. One of such poems reads:
A photo of Bing Xin

大海呵,                   da hai ah,
那一颗星没有光?           Na yi ke xing mei you guang?
那一朵花没有香?           Na yi duo hua mei you xiang?
那一次我的思潮里,           Na yi ci wo de si chao li,
没有你波涛的清响?         Mei you ni de bo tao de qing xiang?

Oh, the big sea,
Which star doesn’t shine?
Which flower isn’t fragrant?
Which of my thoughts
Doesn’t have the clear sound of your waves?

Such short poems were full of sincere feelings and deep thoughts; they spread far and wide at the time. Many people tried to compose such poems.

Jiang Guangci (蒋光慈) was the poet who carried on the romantic tradition of the “Goddess”. His anthology “新梦,New Dreams” published in 1925 contained poems he wrote between 1921 and 1924 in the Soviet Union. He wrote in his “Song of Moscow”:

十月革命,                     Shi yue ge ming,
又如通天火柱一般,             you ru tong tian huo zhu yi ban,
后面燃烧着过去的残物,         hou mian ran shao zhe guo qu de can wu,
前面照耀着将来的新途径。      Qian mian zhao yao zhe jiang lai de xin tu jing.

The October Revolution,
Is like a high column of fire,
It burns the remnants of the past in the rear,
And illuminates in front the future new path.

After Jiang came back to China, he published several collections like “Lament for China”, “The Battle Drum” and “Hometown Feelings”. Poems in these collections were very touching.

Feng Zhi (冯至), the poet of the Deep Bell Society, published “Songs of Yesterday” (1927) and “Travel to the North and Others” (1929). His long narrative poems like “The Story of the Man Who Played Xiao” and “The Curtain” were unique. Because of the authentic content and the skillful techniques, he was reputed by Lu Xun as the “most outstanding lyric poet of China.”

After the failure of the First Revolutionary War during 1924-1927, Kuomintang established reactionary and dark rule; people were oppressed and lived in misery. The cultural front of the broad masses of the people was under serious white terror as well. The left proletarian revolutionary art and literature movement headed by Lu Xun persisted in struggle for 10 years between 1927 and 1937, and finally defeated the reactionary encirclement and suppression in culture, and exerted broad and deep influence among the Chinese people. The Left Writers’ Union of China was founded in March 1930. The union conducted “New Poetry Movement” in order to oppose the bourgeois formalist style.

Wen Yiduo (闻一多,1899-1946) was an accomplished and very influential poet. He advocated rules and forms for new poetry. He proposed that poetry should have the beauty of music (syllable), the beauty of fine art (diction) and the beauty of architecture (the well-proportioned line and etc.). His first anthology “红烛,The Red Candle” appeared in 1923, the second one “死水,The Dead Water” in 1928. Let me quote a few lines from his poem “祈祷, To Pray”:

A Photo of Wen Yiduo

请告诉我谁是中国人,        Qing gao su wo shui shi zhong gu ren,
启示我,如何把记忆抱紧;    Qi shi wo, ru he ba ji yi bao jin;
请告诉我这民族的伟大,      Qing gao su wo zhe min zu de wei da,
 轻轻的告诉我,不要喧哗!    Qing qing de gao su wo, bu yao!

Who is Chinese, please tell me,
Enlighten me on how to hold my memory closely;
Please tell me the greatness of this nation,
Whisper to me, don’t make it noisy.

Wen was a member of the “New Moon School”, which advocated rules and forms for the new poetry. Aside from being neat and tidy in forms, Wen’s poems contained much more patriotism than other poets of the school did. Zhu Ziqing, therefore, described him as “almost the only patriotic poet.” Wen was assassinated by the Kuomintang reactionaries in the evening of July 15, 1946 after he made a public speech.

Xu Zhimo (徐志摩,1897-1931) was educated in the USA and UK. He was elected a member of the British Poetry Society. As a member of the “New Moon School”, he published four anthologies: “志摩的诗,Poems of Zhimo” (1925), “翡冷翠的一夜,One Night of the Cold Jadeite” (1926), “猛虎集,The Fierce Tiger” (1931) and “云游集,Wandering About”(1931, edited by Chen Mengjia after Xu died during a plane crush). XU’s early works opposed feudal warlords and longed for a “baby” of bourgeois republic. Yet, after 1927, when the Kuomintang autocratic rule was established, Xu became quite decadent.

“Modern School” came into being in the early 1930s. Poets, represented by Dai Wangshu (1905-1950), affected by French Symbolism and American Imagism, were once very influential. The early works of Bian Zhilin, He Qifang and Ai Qing were marked with such influence. They all departed from it later and turned to realism. The most accomplished and influential poet of the “Modern School” was Dai. “我的记忆,My Memory”, his first anthology published in 1929, expressed his spiritual depression after the failure of the Great Revolution. He paid much attention to the tonal rules and rhyme endings, especially his poem “The Rainy Lane”, which was reputed as “opening up a new era for the syllables of new poetry.” Many of Dai’s poems are obscure; however, they described his disappointment in the dark reality, his bitter recollection, and his feelings of getting lost. Poems like “The Broken Finger”, “The Village Girl”, “The Flowing Water” and “Our Little Mother” have been highly regarded. By absorbing conception and linguistic nutrition from ancient poetry and the way of expression from French Symbolic poetry, Dai created sweat and sorrow sentiment with the use of daily life language. Another anthology “灾难的岁月,The Disastrous Years” was published after the Anti-Japanese War broke out. Japanese in Hong Kong put him into prison, his health was ruined there. His “Inscriptions on the Wall in Prison” and “I Use My Deformed Hand” expressed touching patriotic feelings. His poem “偶成,Poems Composed Accidentally” projected the poet’s confidence toward a beautiful life:

A photo of Dai Wangshu

如果生命的春天重到,                  Ru guo sheng ming de chun tian chong dao,
古旧的凝冰都哗哗地解冻,             Gu jiu de ning bing dou hua hua de jie dong,
那时我会再看见灿烂的微笑,           Na shi wo hui zai kan jian can lan de wei xiao,
再听见明朗的呼唤—这些迢遥的梦。     Zai ting jian ming lang de hu huan—zhe xie tiao yao de meng.
这些好东西都决不会消失,             Zhe xie hao dong xi dou jue bu hui xiao shi,
因为一切好东西都永远存在,           Yin wei yi qie hao dong xi dou yong yuan cun zai,
它们只是象冰一样凝结,               Ta men zhi shi xiang bing yi yang ning jie,
而有一天会象花一样重开。             Er you yi tian hui xiang hua yi yang chong kai.

If the spring of life came again,
The long coagulated ice began to thaw,
I would then be able to see the splendid smile,
And hear the clear and crispy shouting—these dreams that were once so remote.
Good things will not disappear,
Because they exist for ever,
Only they are coagulated like ice,
But one day they would blossom like a flower.

“Modern School” expanded the expression and method of new poetry to some extent. Yet, they generally inclined to decadent and sorrowful sentiment.

Yin Fu (殷夫,1909-1931) accomplished a great deal in poetry. His early poems sang praise of love and the seeking of brightness with skillful techniques and profound feelings. His poems written after 1927 were full of militant and optimistic spirit. Particularly his group poems “血字,Blood Characters” and “我们的诗,Our Poems” called on people to rise in opposition to imperialism and the reactionary rule of Kuomintang. These poems inspired and aroused many people. His “别了,哥哥, Good-bye, Brother” described how he refused to be bailed out, when he was arrested, by his brother who was an officer in the army of Kuomintang, and expressed his lofty integrity of overcoming the “terror of death” for the “great brightness of truth.” Following are a few lines of his “On May 1st, 1929”, which described the struggle on the street:

A photo of Yin Fu

我在人群中行走,        Wo zai ren qun zhong xing zou,
在袋子中是我的双手,    Zai dai zi zhong shi wo de shuang shou,
一层层一迭迭的纸片,    Yi ceng ceng yi die die de zhi pian,
亲爱地吻我指头。        Qin ai de wen wo zhi tou.

I walked among the crowd,
My hands in my pockets,
Layers upon layers of paper,
Are kissing affectionately my finger.

Yin Fu pushed forward the modern and revolutionary lyrics. Lu Xun valued highly Yin’s contributions. The Kuomintang government murdered Yin in secrecy in 1931.

After the founding of the Left Writers’ Union, revolutionary poetry gained more healthy development. To render a better service to the revolution, to resist the passive trend and formalist style of both the “New Moon School” and the “Modern School”, the “Poetry Society of China” was founded in 1932 and began the publication of its periodical “New Poetry”. The foreword of the “New Poetry” said that it would firmly grasp the reality, sing praises of the surging sentiment of anti-imperialism, resisting Japanese aggression of all the masses of the people. The most important poet of the “Poetry Society of China” was Pu Feng (蒲风,1911-1942). He published anthologies “茫茫夜,The Darkest Night”, “六月流火,The Star of June”, “生活,Life” and others. In “The Star of June”, he eulogized farmers’ struggle against reactionary ruling class, he said, “Primitive weapons are being wielded; from among the fields, a hand of revolt is today extended!” His poems are bold, powerful and expressional, they were closely linked with the realities of revolution. His poems gave a big push to the development of realistic poetry. But, some his poems were a bit rough because of lack of refinement. In 1935, the “Poetry Society of China” promoted “poems for national defense”, as a result, a “Series of Books of Poems for National Defense” was published.

Zang Kejia (臧克家,1905-?) is a prominent poet. He once had contacts with the “New Moon School”, but he walked into the much broader scope of reality later. His anthologies “烙印,The Brand” and “罪恶的黑手,A Vicious and Evil Hand” won favorable comments at the time of publication. The poet faced up to the social reality, showed his sympathy to the laboring people, described the “brand” on the life of the people. The poet mainly dealt with farmers, the countryside and the lower ranks of people in cities. His poems “Refugees”, “The Heavenly Fire”, “The Girl Stoker”, “Fisherman” and “The Rickshaw Boy” reflected the life and encounters of the laboring people. These are poems you can ruminate for a long time. His “The Old Horse” outlined the miserable fate of the laboring people by using an old horse as a metaphor:
A photo of Zang Kejia

总得叫大车装个够,     Zong de jiao da che zhuang ge gou,
它横竖不说一句话,     Ta heng shu bu shuo yi ju hua,
背上的压力往肉里扣,   Bei shang de ya li wang rou li kou,
它把头沉重的垂下!     Ta ba tou cheng zhong de chui xia!
这刻不知道下刻的命,   Zhe ke bu zhi dao xia ke de ming,
它有泪只往心里咽,     Ta you lei zhi wang xin li yan,
眼里飘来一道鞭影,     Yan li piao lai yi dao bian ying,
它抬起头望望前面。     Ta tai qi tou wang wang qian mian.

He always let the cart be loaded to the full,
Never says a word,
The pressure on the back gets into his flesh,
To pull the heavy load he lowers his head.
He doesn’t know what he’ll face in the next moment,
He could only swallow his tears,
 He gets a glimpse of the shadow of the whip,
And raises his head toward the front.

Wen Yiduo’s “The Died Water” apparently influenced Zang, he paid much attention to the refining of words, and the composition was compact. His poems flow naturally. More anthologies were published after the Anti-Japanese War, which eulogized soldiers and the resistance struggles. With his honest and simple style, with his clear-cut love and hate, he presented sincerity and affection to his readers.

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