唐      诗 (下)
Social contradictions came to a head when the An Lushan Bebellion broke out, since than the Tang Dynasty was on its decline, productivity was reduced, the living standard of people went down. This was reflected in poetry, colorful and romantic poems that sought ideals became rare, more and more poems were expressing social conflict and lamented over the disastrous life of the people. The poems of Du Fu (杜甫, 712-770) were most expressional of the outlook of social unrest and the feeling of the people in that period.

A Portrait of Du Fu

Du Fu was the grand son of Du Shenyan, an early Tang poet, so he received very good family education at his childhood. When he was 20 years old, he spent ten years travelling in Jiangsu, Zhejiang and Shandong. He settled down in Luo Yang at the age of 33 and met with Li Bai who had just left Changan. The two “fell into sleep in drunkenness under the same quilt in autumn, traveled hand in hand during the day.”(醉眠秋共被, 携手日同行。) Du was well known when he was small, because young as he was, he “already read over ten thousand books, was as if aided by god when he puts his pen to paper.”But, much to our regret, there are only less than 20 still in existence among the poems he wrote before he met with Li Bai. Du moved to Changan when he was 35 and lived there for 10 years wishing to seek an official position. To his dismay, he led a poor life there. During these 10 years, he wrote more than 100 poems, among which “丽人行, Li Ren Xing, The Song of the Beauty”and “兵车行, Bing Che Xing, The Song of the Army”voiced his unsatisfaction and worries about state affairs; “自京赴奉先县咏怀五百字,500 Words to Speak My Mind When Going to Fengxian County from the Capital”was more famous. He was going to see his wife at Fengxian after he was finally given the position of a petty official. It was in this poem he wrote such lines that have been on everybody’s lips for more than a thousand years:

朱门酒肉臭,           Zhu men jiu rou chou,
路有冻死骨。           Lu you dong si gu.
荣枯咫尺异,           Rong ku zhi chi yi,

Inside the red gate wine and meat went bad,
Out on the road there were bones of those who died of cold.
A foot away from prosperity is exhaustion,
I am too disconsolate to say anything more.

Yet, when he got home, his son had died of hunger. He thought a man like him who was exempted from tax and service in the army was having such a tragic life, the life of ordinary folks would have to be more miserable. Du Fu was in Changan when An Lushan’s army took the capital. He wrote “春望, Chun Wang, Looking Around in Spring”:

A seal script carving of the poem

国破山河在,          Guo po shan he zai,
城春草木深。           Cheng chun cao mu shen.
感时花溅泪,           Gan shi hua jian lei,
恨别鸟惊心。           Hen bie niao jing xin.
 烽火连三月,           Feng huo lian san yue,
家书抵万金。           Jia shu di wan jin.
白头搔更短,           Bai tou sao geng duan,
 浑欲不胜簪。           Hun yu bu sheng zan.

Mountain and rivers still remain even though the state fell,
Spring is in the city while grass and bushes are tall.
Seeing so much misery flowers are shedding tears,
Hearing so many parting words birds are startled.
Flames of battle have been raging till March,
A family letter is worth of ten thousand tales of gold.
I find my white-hair shorter when scratching it,
There is no way to fasten the hairpin on my head.

In August 757, Du went to Luzhou in central Shaanxi to see his wife, he wrote a sister poem of the “500 Words”—“A Trip to the North”which described the miseries he saw on the way, and when he got home he saw his “wife wearing cloths with hundreds of patches”, he sighed,“乾坤含疮痍, 优虞何时毕。 Devastation exists between the sky and earth, when could there be an end to worries!” Early the following year, while he was going to Huazhou from Luoyang, he wrote two groups of immortal poems, which portrayed the sufferings of people and the scenes of war and disorder in depth. One group is referred to as “Three Officials”(The Xinan Official, The Tongguan Official and The Shihao Official) and the other “Three Partings”(Parting of the Newly Wed, Parting with the Old, Parting of the Homeless). Let’s have a look at “The Shihao Official”:

暮投石壕村,           Mu tou shi hao cun,
有吏夜捉人。           You li ye zhuo ren.
老翁逾墙走,           Lao weng yu qiang zou,
老妇出门看。           Lao fu chu men kan.
吏呼一何怒,           Li hu yi he nu,
妇啼一何苦!           Fu ti yi he ku!
听妇前致词:           Ting fu qian zhi ci:
“三男鄴城戍,        “San nan ye cheng shu,
一男附书至,           Yi nan fu shu zhi,
二男新战死;           Er nan xin zhan si;
 存者且偷生,          Cun zhe qie tou sheng,
死者长已矣!           Si zhe chang yi yi!
室中更无人,           She zhong geng wu ren,
惟有乳下孙。           Wei you ru xia sun.
有孙母未去,           You sun mu wei qu,
出入无完裙。           Chu ru wu wan qun.
老妪力虽衰,           Lao yu li sui shuai,
请从吏夜归,           Qing cong li ye gui,
急应河阳役,           Ji ying he yang yi,
犹得备晨炊。”         You de bei chen chui.”
夜久语声绝,           Ye jiu yu sheng jue,
如闻泣幽咽!           Ru wen qi you ye!
天明登前途,           Tian ming deng qian tu,
独与老翁别!           Du yu lao weng bie!

At dusk I lodged at a family in the Shihao Village,
An official came at night to catch people.
The old man jumped over the wall and fled,
The old woman came out to see what happened.
The official shouted with rage!
The old lady wept with pain!
I heard the old lady went forward and said,
“My three sons went to defend the Yecheng City.
One has just delivered a letter,
Two of them have died in war recently.
I am just dragging out my humble life,

For the died are gone forever!
There is no man in the family,
Only my grandson who has to be fed by milk.
His mother has not been re-married,
Yet her ragged skirt can’t cover her body.
A fragile old woman likes me,
Can go with you back to the army.
Since the battle at Heyang is so urgent,
Must get ready the breakfast.”
No more voice was heard during the long night,
I seemed hearing somebody weeping silent tears.
I had to continue my trip at daybreak,
And could only say good-bye to the old man.

Du Fu wrote many poems from the year of the rebellion to the year he moved to Chengdu, because during these five years Du experienced more in a much harder way. Yet only more than 200 of them have been kept and passed down to us, and most of them are masterpieces. Du came to Chengdu in 760 and spent 8 years in Sichuan where his life became more stable and more poems were written. In these poems he still showed his concern to the life of the people. For instance, on one day autumn wind raged and swept away all the cogongrass on the roof of his thatched cottage, then it rained continuously and every thing inside got wet, thus, he wrote the famous “茅屋为秋风所破歌, Mao Wu Wei Qiu Feng Suo Po Ge, A Song Recording How the Thatched Cottage Was Damaged by Autumn Wind,”the second  half of the poem reads


秋天漠漠向昏黑。        Qiu tian mo mo xiang hun hei.
布衾多年冷似铁,        Bu qin duo nian leng si tie,
娇儿恶卧踏里裂。        Jiao er e wo ta li lie.
床头屋漏无干处,      Chuang tou wu lou wu gan chu,
雨脚如麻未断绝。      Yu jiao ru ma wei duan jue.
自经丧乱少睡眠,      Zi jing sang luan shao shui mian,
长夜沾湿何由彻?      Chang ye zhan shi he you che?
安得广厦千万间,      An de guang sha qian wan jian,
大庇天下寒士俱欢颜,  Da bi tian xia han shi ju huan yan,
风雨不动安如山!      Feng yu bu dong an ru shan!
何时眼前突兀见此屋,  He shi yan qian tu wu jian ci wu,
吾庐独破受冻死亦足!  Wu lu du po shou dong si yi zu! 

Shortly after wind settled down but clouds remained black,
The autumn sky was misty and became dark.
The cotton quilts used for many years were iron-cold,
The lining was torn by my spoiled son’s way of sleeping.
The leaking rain soaked one end of the bed,
The rain was dense and unbroken.
I don’t sleep much since the disorder,
How could I spend the long night in wet?
What if there were ten thousand spacious rooms,
To shelter all those who were cold and be happy together,
We would be as steady as a mountain in storm!
I could suddenly see these rooms before me?
I would be satisfied even if I died of cold and my own room damaged!

The poet was not only thinking of himself, but also all those who had no shelters. He would rather die if there were thousand and ten thousand spacious room to keep these people from being harmed by storm. What a great humanitarian mind he had! Du died of illness in the winter of 770 on a boat at Laiyang, Hunan Province at the age of 59. In 11 years since 760, more than one thousand poems were written.

The poetry of Du Fu is of an extremely high artistic attainment. One of the reasons of his success was his seriousness in creation, he said himself,“I shall not give up if the language can’t surprise people.” “I often hum for a long time after polishing my poem in the modern form,” and “I gradually gave more attention meticulously to Lu Shi.” Du Fu was at home with every form of poetry, “Wu Lu” was most used and occupied half of all his poems. “Qi Lu”was the form created by the people of Tang, yet Du Fu’s “Qi Lu”marked the zenith of such creations. In some poems, he also adopted and developed the style of “Nine Songs” in the 《SONGS OF CHU》. So, the style of Du Poetry is richly verified. Du has been admired by poets and people of different schools. He has occupied a lofty place in the hearts of people for generations. He has been regarded as the “Saint of Poetry” and his poems were “history in poetry.” His influence on later poetry has always been felt.

Bai Juyi (白居易, 772-846) is another most important poet of Tang Dynasty. There are almost three thousand poems of Bai that have been handed down to us. What is unique of him is that he has his own poetry writing theory. He thought poetry was a fruit tree, feelings were the root, language was the sprout, sound was the leaves and meaning or message was the fruit. He divided his poetry into four categories: satirical poems, poems for leisure, sentimental poems and “Lu Shi.”

A Portrait of Bai Juyi

Satirical poems are the cream of Bai’s poetry which includes 50 “New Yue Fu” poems and “Songs at Central Qin.” These poems reflected all major social issues of the mid-Tang period, described the darkness of the time and sufferings of the people. He criticized the wrong doings of the society without any scruple. In his letter to his best friend Yuan Zhen, another famous poet, he said, his poems made the “influential officials and the rich change colors on their faces.” Among these poems, “卖炭瓮, Mai Tan Weng, The Old Man Who Sells Charcoals” is probably most well known, it described such thoughts of the old man:

可怜身上衣正单, 心忧炭贱愿天寒。
Ke lian shen shang yi zheng dan,
Xin you tan jian yuan tian han.
The poor old man was so thinly clad,
He wished it colder fearing charcoal might be sold cheap.
In the end the old man was forced to sell his charcoal at a cheap price to official buyers. In “杜陵叟, Du Ling Sou, The Old Man at Duling” he was furious with the corrupted officials:

典桑卖地纳官租,      Dian sang mai di na guan zu,
明年衣食将何如!      Ming nian yi shi jiang he ru!
夺我身上帛,          Duo wo sheng shang bo,
夺我口中粟,          Duo wo kou zhong su,
虐人害物即豺狼,      Nue ren hai wu ji chai lang,
何必钩爪锯牙食人肉!  He bi gou zhua ju ya shi ren rou!

To pay the tax I sold my land and mortgaged mulberry tree,
What am I going to eat and wear next year!
You took the cloth away from my body,
You took the corn away from my mouth,
Only jackal maltreats people like this,
Why do you bare fangs and brandish claws to eat human flesh!

His poems of leisure expressed his carefree mood, his longing for a tranquil life and his will of preserving his purity. Yet, you can find some epigrams among them, for instance:

作客诚已难, 为臣尤不易。
Zuo ke cheng yi nan, wei chen you bu yi.
Being a guest is really not easy,
To be an official is more difficult.

Among his sentimental poems, “长恨歌, Chang Hen Ge, Song of Eternal Regret”and “琵琶行,Pi Pa Xing, A Song with Pipa” have been well known, some one said even without the rest of his poetry, these two poems were enough to make Bai immortal. The former depicts the love between Emperor Xuanzong of Tang and Yang Yuhuan, a most beautiful lady by saying that “while there is an end to the long-lasting sky and earth, this regret shall linger for ever,” it also described how the emperor was too indulged in love to govern state affairs, when escaping from An Lushan’s army the emperor was forced by his guards to send Yang to die. The latter though depicts the mind of an old prostitute, it also spoke the mind of the poet when he was reduced to a lower official position, and such lines in the poem have been frequently quoted:

Tong shi tian ya lun luo ren, xiang feng he bi ceng xiang shi.
We are all those who have come down in the world,
It isn’t necessary to know each other before we meet.

“Lu Shi” takes up a greater part among Bai’s poems. Most valuable are the short landscape poems, for instance “赋得古原草送别, Fu De Gu Yuan Cao Song Bie, A Farewell Poem by Describing the Grass on the Old Plain”:

离离原上草,           Li li yuan shang cao,
一岁一枯荣。           Yi sui yi ku rong.
野火烧不尽,           Ye huo shao bu jin,
春风吹又生。           Chun feng chui you sheng.

Grass on the plain is flourishing,
It withers and grows once a year.
Wild fire can not burn it all,
When spring wind blows it will again come to life.

Bai’s poems carry much food for thought, yet they are easy to understand. It was said that one Korean business man went to Bai and asked for a poem, he brought it back to Korea and sold it to his Prime Minister for one hundred tales of gold. One Japanese monk once copied some Bai’s poems in Suzhou, these poems are still being kept in Japan and regarded as their state treasures. Bai’s poems were most widely spread even when he was alive.

Famous poets of Bai’s peers were Yuan Zhen (元稹, 779-831), Zhang Ji (张籍, 767-830) and Li Shen (李绅, 772-846). Yuan Zhen’s style was very similar to that of Bai Juyi, he wrote many poems in reply to Bai, and the two were often mentioned together as “Yuan Bai”. Yuan wrote 19 poems in “Old Yue Fu Titles” and 12 in “New Yue Fu titles.” He was also famous for his love poems, which were vivid and detailed in descriptions. Zhang Ji accomplished a great deal in “Yue Fu”poems. Bai Juyi said Zhang was almost next to nobody in the writing of “Yue Fu”. Li Shen was know for his “Poems in Pity of Farmers”:

 春种一粒粟              Chun zhong yi li cu.
 秋收万颗子,            Qiu shou wan ke zi,
 四海无闲田,            Si hai wu xian tian,
 农夫犹饿死。            Nong fu you e si.

A piece of millet is sown in spring,
In autumn ten thousand seeds are reaped,
No land was wasted anywhere,
Yet farmers still die of hunger!
锄禾日当午,            Chu he ri dang wu,
汗滴禾下土,            Han di he xia tu,
谁知盘中餐,            Shui zhi pan zhong can,
粒粒皆辛苦!            Li li jie xin ku!

Hoeing crops at high noon,
Sweat drops down on the soil under the hoe,
Everybody should know that in the plate,
Every grain of food is gained with hardship!

Han Yu ( 韩愈, 768-824) is an outstanding poet of the mid-Tang period. Even though he accomplished more in prose writing, he was the leader of a particular school of poetry. He often used peculiar and strange metaphors. He always risked dangers to rhyme. Meng Jiao (孟郊, 751-814) belongs to this school. He was good at describing feelings and circumstances of the poor.

Among all the Tang poets, the late Chairman of the People’s Republic of China, Mao Zedong liked Li He (李贺, 790-816) most. This mid-Tang poet was already famous when he was 15 years old. It is said that when he traveled, a servant carrying a bag on donkey back would follow him. When some lines came to his mind, he would write them down on paper and put the paper in the bag. He then polished these lines when he got home. He has been weak in health all his life and died when he was only 27. Yet in these 27 years, he wrote 240 poems. His poems can be divided into four categories:

A.   Satire on dark politics and unhealthy tendencies. Most poems in this category are in the form of “Yue Fu”. These poems satirized the extravagant life of the imperial court; opposed the status of separated regimes, exposed the exploitation of the people and reflected the hard life of soldiers at the frontier. Let’s read “秦王饮酒, Qin Wang Yin Jiu, King of Qin Drinks Wine”:

秦王骑虎游八极,     Qin wang qi hu you ba ji,
剑光照空天自碧。     Jian guang zhao kong tian zi bi.
羲和敲日玻璃声,     Xi He qiao ri bo li sheng,
劫灰飞尽古今平。     Jie hui fei jin gu jin ping.
龙头泻酒邀酒星,     Long tou xie jiu yao jiu xing,
金槽琵琶夜枨枨。     Jin cao pi pa ye cheng cheng.
 洞庭雨脚来吹笙,     Dong ting yu jiao lai chui sheng,
酒酣喝月使倒行。     Jiu han he yue shi dao xing.
银云栉栉瑤殿明,     Yin yun zhi zhi yao dian ming,
宫门掌事唱一更。      Gong men zhang shi chang yi geng.
花楼玉凤声嬌狞,     Hua lou yu feng sheng jiao ning,
海绡红文香浅清,     Hai xiao hong wen xiang qian qing,
黄娥跌舞千年觥。     Huang e die wu qian nian gong.
仙人烛树蜡烟轻,     Xian ren zhu shu la yan qing,
青琴醉眼泪泓泓。     Qing qin zui yan lei hong hong.

The King of Qin toured all places on tiger back,
When his sword was drawn its glitter shone over the sky.
Xi He knocking at the sun with a sound likes striking on glass,
Ash of flames was driven out and peace resumed.
Wine poured from the dragonhead shaped ladle and stars of drinkers invited,
 Beautiful notes sounded at night by the Pipa with gold coated grooves.
Then sheng was heard as if rain was slashing on Lake Dong Ting,
The King drank to the full and shouted at the moon and asked It to go backwards.
Clouds became whiter and the hall brighter,
Yet the gatekeeper reported it was only small hours.

Inside the richly decorated hall the sound of flute seemed weak,
Perfume on dancing costumes smelt pale,
Steps of maids in yellow dresses staggered, yet still toasted a long live.
Smoke from the burning parasol branches was faint,
The drunken eyes of concubines were full of tears.

Through out the poem, no Qin story was mentioned, so it was not a poem about the King of Qin. The figurelooked very much like Emperor Dezong of Tang, who was a Marshall and wiped out rebels. This poem was an obscure criticism on the rotten life of Emperor Dezong of Tang. In the feudal society, riding six dragons was a sign of imperial power. In the poem, the King was riding on tiger back. This change was to stress the awe-inspiring effect. Xi He is a god in Chinese fairy tales who drives the cart of the sun. “Shouting at the moon and asked it to go backwards”reveals the cruel and despotic nature of the King whose desire was not satisfied and wanted to prolong the night. This poem was regarded as a representative work of Li He and a pearl in the treasure of Tang poetry.

of his own determination.“致酒行, Zhi Jiu Xing, Song of Toast” is one of this kind. This poem cried out against injustice, saying “天荒地老无人識, The sky has grown old and land wasted, still a talent couldn’t be recognized.” The poem was written when he was refused to enter into the imperial examination. But he was unwilling to give up, he said in the same poem:“雄鸡一唱天下白, 少年心事当拿云。Day breaks when cock crows, young people should have high aspirations.”

C. Themes of god, immortals and ghosts. Li He has been referred as a “ghost talent”, because he had written so many poems about ghosts. Some critics said without writing about ghosts, Li He could not fully express his grief and hatred.

D. Other themes including “李凭箜篌引,Li Ping Kong Hou Yin, Li Ping plays Kong Hou” which depicts with extraordinary imagination the effects of playing music instrument. His “马诗二十三首,23 Poems on Horses” voiced his indignation on the political reality by way of portraying horses.

With his rich and queer imagination, his refined words and remarkable lines, Li He certainly left a deep print on Chinese history of literature.

A Sculpture of Li Shangyin

Li Shangyin (李商隐,813-858) and Du Mu (杜牧,803-852) are the masters of late Tang poetry, they have been reputed as “Li Du Juniors” compared to Li Bai and Du Fu. Li Shangyin’s “Qi Lu” is of high artistic attainment. His poems on history and love have been widely spread, especially lines like the following:

相见时难别亦难,         Xiang jian shi nan bie yi nan,
东风无力百花残。         Dong feng wu li bai hua can.
春蚕到死丝方尽,         Chun can dao si si fang jin,
蜡炬成灰泪始干。         La ju cheng hui lei shi gan. 

It is difficult to meet and more difficult to part,
The east wind is weak and flowers look old. 
Spring silkworm only stops spinning when it dies,
Warm tears begin to dry when the candle is utterly burnt out. 

A Portrait of Du Mu

Du Mu was extremely good at seven-character “Jue Ju” with enchanting diction and a bold and generous style. Both of them passed away when Huang Chao Rebellion broke out. Poets who could reflect the acute social contradictions at the time of farmers’rebellion were Pi Rixiu, Nie Yizhong and Du Xunhe. Tang Dynasty was a period in which poetry was most developed; it created many poets and numerous poems, which covered a wide range of content in rich and varied forms. The poems of the great poets Li Bai, Du Fu and Bai Juyi truthfully reflected the outlook and the essence of social life of their times, they voiced the thinking and feelings of the people of the time. Owing to the extraordinary artistic attainment and their respective unique style, the works of these poets all have very powerful appeal. The tradition of affinity to the people and the tradition of realist spirit are most conspicuous in Tang poetry. These immortal poems are a most valuable part of our nation’s culture. They are a precious spiritual wealth from which we must draw nutrition continuously in order to create a new cultu

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