Chinese Painting and Poetry: POETS' PAGE


Tang Dynasty



Li Po, Tu Fu, Wang Wei

Li Po (701-762)

The best known of the Chinese romantic poets, was obsessed by wine, women, and poetic imaginations. Legends about Li Po are almost a familiar to the Chinese as are his poems. Drinking wine seems to have been Li Po's favorite interest. While other poets, like T'ao Ch'ien, write of wine as a source of good fellowship and as a means of escaping sorrows, Li Po regarded it as a source of poetic inspiration. Lovely women and friendship are two important themes in Li Po's poetry; some of his most touching poems are those on separation from friends. Few poets have so successfully evoked the grief of parting (Lynn, 8-9). It was also part of his Taoism that his poems seem to receive rather than to give: to receive the light of the Tao without illumination of their own, and to receive, hospitably, the reader's own imagination instead of informing it. The real content of Li Po's best poetry seems to be not in the words but somehow in between them (Lao Tzu's "teaching without words") For example, Li Po wrote, "drunkenly I rise to stalk the brook." Only thing has been told is Li Po dozed over his wine outdoors in spring until night has fallen. The stream ran between the magical wooded slopes are not described. The presence of the wooded slopes is felt without telling. Readers can imagine the surrounding without poet's literal description. During his life, Tu Fu wrote several poems to Li Po (including dream poems) but Li Po only wrote a few to Tu Fu. The well-know legend of his death is that he fell drunk from a boat while trying to grasp the reflection of the moon, and he was drowned (Cooper, 36).

Marble Stair Gteivance:
On Marble Stairs
Still grows the white dew
That has all night
Soaked her silk slippers
But she lets down
Her crystal blind now
And sees through glaze
The moon of autumn.
-Tr. Cooper, Arthur

The marble in this poem is jade. The jade symbolizes the woman's smooth skin. "The white dew" suggests the tear on her cheek. White Dew is also the name of the half-month in early September, Chinese lunar calendar. It hints readers that the lady is no longer young. The "crystal blind" suggests the tears in her eyes, also it's the name of a roll-up curtain with rock-crystals; to which the Marble Stairs led. The lady in this poem is an Imperial Concubine who is losing the Emperor's attention. The subject of Imperial Concubine sometimes seems a protest of immoral by the poets; it is against nature and the Tao's good government. Some concubines barely meet the emperor and have to live lonely in the court. This is cruel and unnatural. The morality is seen through this girl's point of view.

Quiet Night Thoughts:
Before my bed
There is bright moonlight
So that it seems
like frost on the ground;
Lifting my head
I watch the bright moon,
Lowering my head
I dream that I'm home.
-Tr. Cooper, Arthur

This is the best known of all Chinese poems. This translation is very close in meaning to the original and it's easy to understand. Li Po describes the romantic scene of the night. The moon reminds him of his home.

With wine I sit
Absent to Night, till
Fallen petals
in folds of my gown
I stagger up
To stalk the brook's moon:
The birds are gone
And people are few!
-Tr. Cooper, Arthur

During the Tang period, words describing the spring seasons were often used as name for wines.

Early Departure From White King City:
At dawn we leave White King,
Its clouds all coloured,
For passage to Kiang-ling
In one sun's circuit:
While both banks' gibbons cry
Calls still unceasing,
Our light boat has gone by
Many fold mountains.
Chinese river poems and river pictures suggest the journey of life. "Its clouds all coloured" suggests "clouds of glory."
-Tr. Cooper, Arthur



Tu Fu (712-770)












































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a man with Confucian love for family and friends,contrasts with Li Po in every way. He lived in troubled times when thousands of men were sent away to fight and die. His sympathy for humanity provides a distinctive character to his poetry. Most of Tu Fu's life was a hard struggle: one of his children died from starvation, and his own health in later years suffered from past privations. His verses also show his failure to gain advancement in official life or even a decent living. However, he never gave way to self-pity, rather he kept a sense of balance and enjoyed life to the full. Tu Fu was a happy man; in Confucian belief the good man must always be so. All critics regard the highest Confucian virtue of "compassion" as the outstanding quality in Tu Fu's character and poetry (Cooper, 37-39). Tu Fu followed the Confucian notion of an ideal civil servant. With great moral courage, he defended a colleague whom the Emperor disliked and nearly lost his own head. The most important events that influenced Tu Fu's poetry was the An Lu-Shan Rebellion which took place in 756. All critics agree that from this time until his death was the period of Tu Fu's greatest work. History has thrust a burden on Tu Fu for been the greatest poet. The language of his poems has always been difficult to understand because of overlapping trains of thought and because of intentionally avoiding direct narration.

About Du Fu:
I met Du Fu on a mountain top
in August when the sun was hot.
Under the shade of his big straw hat
his face was sad--
in the years since we last parted,
he'd grown wane, exhausted.
Poor old Du Fu, I thought then,
he must be agonizing over poetry again.
-Tr. Hamil

The Cricket:
Luckily you have come out from rotting weeds;
Dare you fly near the sun?
You are not able to illumine books,
But can always bespot a traveler's clothes.
Carried on the wind, you seem small outside the curtain;
Specked with rain, you are faint by the side of the wood.
When in the tenth month the chill frost is heavy,
In your distress where will you turn?
-Tr. Davis, A.R.

This is a political allegory of the powerful eunuch Li Fu-Kuo. The "rotting weeds" is the eunuchs, and the sun is the emperor. The third line will be an expression of the scholar's hostility toward the unlearned eunuch. The third line may also indicate the allegorical nature of the poem, since the firefly provides the poor scholar with light to study in the literary tradition. The fourth line suggests the eunuch is responsible for personal harm. The fifth and sixth lines are furtiveness. The last line expresses the wish for the eunuch's immediate removal (Davis, 142).

Song of Painting: Presented to General Ts'ao Pa:
The General is a descendant of Emperor Wu of Wei,
But now his family have become commoners and are poor.
Though the heroic conquests are a thing of the past,
The artistic spirit is still preserved.
In his study of calligraphy he first followed Madam Wei;
His only regret is not to have surpassed Right General Wang.
While painting, he "does not realized old age is coming on."
"Riches and honors are to me like floating clouds."
During K'ai-Yuan he was constantly received by the Emperor,
An by his favor often entered the Southern Fragrance Hall.
To the faded features of the statesmen in the Mist-Soaring Pavilion,
The General's brush brought living faces.
On the heads of noble ministers were "Promoted Worthy" hats;
At the waists of fierce Generals, great-feathered arrows.
The hair of the Dukes of Pao and O bristle;
Their heroic aspect was alive with love of battle.
The former Emperor's "heavenly horse," Jade-flower Dapple,
Whom a host of painters had differently depicted
That day was led beneath the Vermilion Terrace;
Rearing before the Palace Gate, he raised a great wind.
The General was ordered to spread white silk;
He earnestly devoted his skill to the planning.
In an instant a true imperial "dragon" appeared;
At one stroke all horses of all ages were made of no account.
Jade-flower is there above the Emperor's throne!
Above the throne and in the courtyard-a towering likeness!
His Majesty smiled and pressed gold upon him;
The stud keepers and the Master of the Horse all sighed.
His pupil Han Kan had early mastered his skill;
He too could paint remarkable likeness of horses,
Kan only painted the flesh and did not paint the bone;
He did not mind if the courser's spirit was lost.

The General's skill in painting is truly inspired;
He will paint the portrait too of any excellent man he meets.
Now when his is a wanderer in time of war,
He often paints ordinary travelers.
In his straits he has come to suffer the contempt of the vulgar,
For in the world no one is as poor as he.
Only let him consider that from of old famous men,
All their lives, were disappointed and constrained.
-Tr. Davis, A.R.

The beginning writing poems on one's own or others' painting is attributed to Tu Fu. Using painting as his subject, Tu Fu gives respectful and affective critics to painters. The most famous poem on painting is Tu Fu's Song of Painting: Presented to General Ts'ao Pa. It is on the life of an old painter fallen on hard times. Tu Fu offered an encouragement to its subject (Davis, 134-135).

Remembering Li Po:
Po in poetry is without equal;
Soaring, his thought is uncommon:
In pure freshness a Yu Kai-fu;
In surpassing excellence a Pao Ts'an-chun.
North of the Wei are spring trees;
East of the Kiang evening clouds.
When with a jar of wine may we
Again closely argue about writing.
-Tr. Davis, A.R.

The generosity praise of Li Po is a noteworthy characteristic of Tu Fu, for it is rare in China as well as in the rest of the world. Tu Fu wrote this in after Li Po and he parted in the autumn of 745. Tu Fu longs for a reunion with the great poet (Davis, 146-147).



Wang Wei (669-759)




























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Wang Wei is best known as a nature poet, but he was also a painter and a musician. It has been said that there was painting in his poetry and poetry in his painting. His paintings have not survived even though he left a valuable treatise on the subject. It is true that his poems are paintings; it is characteristic of his art that in one or two lines of verse to evoke a landscape. He is interested not only in nature as it appears to the eye, but nature as man unites himself to it in mystical harmony. However, Wang was more than a nature poet. He wrote many fine compositions on friendship, court life at the T'ang capital, military expeditions, and warfare at the frontier, as well as on love. Wang Wei was a devoted Mahahyana Buddhist, and it had influenced him viewing the world and his place in it. The Mahahyana teaches the equal existence of all things. This means that each thing has its own characteristics and purpose of existence, it should be acknowledge by enlightened persons. Wang Wei doesn't only write about elements in the nature, but he writes on how the nature meant and appeared to him with his enlightenment (Watson, 197-199).

Calling on Li I:
Colours of autumn weeds at the front gate
No carriages all day long
When I , a stranger, enter the lane
Dogs bark under the cold trees
His unbrushed hair is sometimes not pinned up
And he still carries books on the Way as he walks about
He has ideas like mine, this man
Who rejoices in the Way, is content to be poor
A drink of Ich'eng wine, and then
I go back to my own places of retreat.
-Tr. Robinson, G. W.

In line six, "the way" refers to Buddhist beliefs. The character tao, define as "the way" usually refers to Taoism, but in this case it is Buddhism (Robinson, 122).

Thoughts on a winter night:
The winter dark is cold and also long
The night clock strikes within the palace
Grass is white, clouded over with frost
Trees are decayed, lit up by the clear moon
Rich raiment bright beneath a gaunt face
Vermilion candles shining on white hairs
The Han emperor rather honored youth
When I look in the mirror, I'm ashamed to go to court.
-Tr. Robinson, G. W.

This poem is on emperor Wu's visit to his secretaries' office. Emperor saw a very old man and asked him how long he has been in office. The old man replied, "since the time of emperor Wen." The old man also said, "emperor Wen liked literary matters while your servant liked military matters. During the time of emperor Ching, emperor Ching liked handsomeness while your servant is ugly. Now, your majesty likes youth while your servant is old." "I have failed in three successive reigns and grown old in the secretariat" (Robinson 139). The emperor was touched and promoted the old servant.

The Lady of Hsi:
Present love could not efface
Memory of what once she enjoyed
She looked at a flower with eyes tear-filled
And spoke no word to the king of Ch'u
-Tr. Robinson, G. W.

A prince of Ch'u fell in love with a pastry-cook's wife. The prince gave him gifts in exchange of the wife. Later, in the presence of many literary guests, the prince asked the former pastry-cook's wife if she still love her former husband. She didn't reply. When her former husband was brought in, her eyes were filled with tears. Wang Wei was among the many guests and he wrote on this incident. The flower in the poem symbolizes a lover. The wife was born during the reign of emperor Hsi (Robinson, 102).




Five Dynasties


Li Yu's (Li Hou-chu, 937-978)



































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Li Yu's poetic accomplishment was closely related to his personal experiences. He was the emperor of Five Dynasties. Around age of 40, Li Yu lost his empire to the Northern Sung emperor. From that point of time, year 976, Li Yu became political prisoner in the Sung capital. He expressed his dramatic life through much intense poetry. It was in Li Yu's period that poets made a greatest leap in using the tz'u (instead of Shih). The infinite time and space is one of Li Yu's most used themes. "The weeping expanse of his lost kingdom symbolizes the limitless extent of the universe itself, and the short history of his dynasty becomes a universal symbol of time past" (Chang, 67)

Washing Sand in the Stream:
The red sun has risen to a thirty-foot height;
The golden furnace is repeatedly filled with animal- shaped fragrant charcoal.
Red brocade carpets wrinkle with dancing steps.
Beautiful maidens dance until their golden hairpins slip down;
When I am drunk I pluck a flower and smell it.
I can hear the remote sound of flutes and drums from another palace.
-Tr. Chang, Kang-I Sun

The first line implies that the party held in the place did not end until the next morning. The last line suggests that another party is also held at another palace. The poet mentions the time and spatial relationship in the first and the last line.

To the tune of The Beauty of Yu:
April's blossom and autumn's moon,
will they never end?
Of what once was, how much's gone past!
Yesterday, an east wind stirred the night,
in bright moonshine I dared not to look back,
a heartbreaking sight. Carved railings, jade walkways
they should still be the same,
only the bloom on the faces bleached away. (*)
How much sorrowness there's dwelling in me?
Like a river, fed by spring rain, flushing to sea.
-Tr. Wai-lim Yip
* "Red faces" could also refer to emperors."

The forest flowers have lost their spring red,
Sooner than their time!
Nothing can be done about the cold rain of morning
and the wind of night.

The rouge tears Enchant meów
When shall I see you again?
Surely life is full of sorrow, like a river endlessly
flowing east
. -Tr. Chang, Kang-I Sun

The red flower is compare to the woman's "rouge-tear" (Chang, 92). Assertive statements like "Surely life is full of sorrow, like a river endlessly flowing east" reinforce impression of specific rhetoric.

New Year:
The wind whirls around the small courtyard
Overgrown with green weeds,
Willow sprout appear
spring after spring.
Leaning against the balustrade for half a day, I am
All alone and silent.
The flute noteds and the crescent moon are just as
They were before.

I imagine that the pipe songs still continue and the
goblets are still there,
And in the pond the ice would be about to melt,
The candles would burn bright, the incense would be subtle, in the secluded decorated chamber.
Now my hair is as white as clear frost and unmelted
snowówsuch memories are hard to bear.
-Tr. Chang, Kang-I Sun



Northern Sung


Su Shih (Su Tung-Po, 1037-1101)
















































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Su Shih was the major poet of Northern Sung dynasty. After Su Shih passed the civil service examination, he began a career in the bureaucracy. His sharp criticism of government policy in his poem often put him in disfavor of the emperor. Su Shih supported the Confucian ideas of public service and welfare of the people. He looked up to the Tang poets and spoke out against the corrupted government. Su Shih was taught in Taoist and Buddhist thought, and "they have lent a equanimity and breadth of outlook to his character" (Watson, 296). In spite of the misfortune Su Shih encountered, there wasn't a hint of despair in his poem that at times Tang's poets conveyed in their poems. Su Shih's work were acclaim for "narrative skill and carefully observed description" (Watson, 296). No only Su Shih used the convention and theme from the pass, but also did he create a new novel-like poetry. Although Su Shih's poems lacked the intensity of the Tang's poems, his poems possessed in depth philosophy.

Battle of the Red Cliff:
The great river surges east,
Its waves have scoured away
Since time began all traces of heroic men.
The western side of the old fort Was once, so people say,
Known as the Red Cliff of Zhou of the Three Kingdoms.
With piled-up rocks to stab the sky
And waves to shake them thunderously
Churning the frothy mass to mounds of snow,
It's like a masterpiece in paint.
Those ages hide how many a hero!
Think back to those old days;
that first year when Zhou Yu had just married the Young Qiao.
Then, what a hero he became!
With waving fan and silken cap
He talked and laughed at ease
While masts and oars were blotted out in smoke and flame!
My wits that stray to realms of old
Deserve the scorn of all who feel;
Years pass, and hair grows white so soon.
Though a man's life is like a dream,
One toast continues still -- the River and the Moon!
-Tr. Lin Shan
"The great river surges east" refers to time fleets.

Rhyming with Tzu-yu's "Treading the Green":
East wind stirs fine dust on the roads,
Fine chance for strollers to enjoy the new spring.
Slack seasonówjust right for roadside drinking,
Grain still too short to be crushed by carriage wheels.
City people sick of walls around them
Clatter ourt at dawn and leave the whole town empty.
Songs and drums jar the hills, grass and trees shake;
Picnic baskets strew the fields where crows pick them over.
Who draws a crowd there? A priest, he says,
Blocking the way, selling charms and scowling:
"Good for silkwormsówgive you cocoons like water jugs!
Good for livestockówmake your sheep big as deer!"
Passers-by aren't sure they believe his wordsów
Buy charms anyway to consecrate the spring.
The priest grabs their money, heads for a wine shop.
Dead drunk, he mutters, "My charms really work!"
-Tr. Watson, Burton

"Treading the Green" refers to the day picnic held in early spring. Su Shih's younger brother had written a poem describing on the festival, and Su Shih adopted the same theme and rhymes for his poem. In line 9, "priest" could be a Buddhist or Taoist priest (Watson, 297)

New year's Eve:

New Year's Eveów you'd think I could go home early
But official business keeps me.
I hold the brush and face them with tears:
Pitiful convicts in chains,
Little men who tried to fill their bellies,
Fell into the law's net, don't understand disgrace.
And I? In love with a meager stipend
I hold on to my job and miss the chance to retire
Don't ask who is foolish or wise;
All of us alike scheme for a meal.
The ancients would have freed them a while at New Year'sów
Would I dare do likewise? I am silent with shame.
-Tr. Watson, Burton

Su Shih was a vice-governor of Hangchow. At the time, criminal cases involved with death penalty had to be solved by New Year's (Watson, 299)

Lament of the Farm Wife of Wu:
Rice this year ripens so late!
We watch, but when will frost winds come?
They come ów with rain in bucketful;
The harrow sprouts mold, the sickle rusts.
My tears are all cried out, but rain never ends;
It hurts to see yellow stalks flattened in the mud.
We camped in a grass shelter a month by the field;
Then it cleared and we reaped the grain, followed the wagon home,
Sweaty, shoulders sore, carting it to town ów
The price it fetched, you'd think we came with chaff.
We sold the ox to pay taxes, broke up the roof for kindling;
We'll get by for the time, but what of next year's hunger?
Officials demand cash now ów they won't take grain;
The long northwest border tempts invaders.
Wise men fill the court ów why do things get worse?
I'd be better off bride to the River Lord!
-Tr. Watson, Burton

"Wise men" refers to two officials of Han who worked for the welfare of peasants. The last line refers to the ancient tradition of sacrificing a girl as a "bird" each year to the River Lord (Watson, 300).

Under the Heaven of Our Holy Ruler:
"Because of what has happened, I have been confined to the imperial censorate prison. The prison officials treat me with increasing harshness, and I doubt that I can stand it much longer. If I die in prison, I will have no chance to say good-bye to Tzu-yu, And therefore I wrote these two poems and gave them to the warden, Liang Hsu, to deliver to him," the poet narrated.
Under the heaven of our holy ruler, all things turn to spring,
But I in dark ignorance have destroyed myself.
Before my hundred years are past, I'm called to settle up;
My leaderless family, ten mouths, must be your worry now.
Bury me anywhere on the green hills
And another year in night rain grieve for me alone.
Let us be brothers in lives and lives to come,
Mending then the bonds that this world breaks.
-Tr. Watson, Burton
The poet was put in prison because of criticizing government policy. This is the first of two poems. (Watson, 304)



Southern Sung


Lu Yu(1127-1210)





























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Lu Yu passed the civil serviced examination and served in court. Like his father, Lu Yu advocated expulsion of the Chin invader. At the time, peace and reconciliation dominated the court, emperor Shih-tsung ignored Lu Yu's advice. Lu Yu fail to advance and success in bureaucratic service, he retired to his home in Chekiang to enjoy rural life. Lu Yu's poetry conveys two major themes. One is Lu Yu's concern for the fate of his nation and the other is the celebration of his peaceful retirement life. "In his poetry of patriotism and protest, he clearly identifies himself with Tu Fu, whose works he admired intensely (Watson, 314).

After Getting Drunk, I Scribble Songs and Poems in Grass ScriptówWritten as a Joke:
Head poking from a vermilion tower, all eight directions cramped;
One dip of green wine and I go on for a hundred cups,
Washing away the humps and hills, cliffs and crags of my heart,
Cleansing myself so I can shape verses passionate, windy and free. Ink at first spurts out like the ire of demons and gods;
Characters all at once grow lean, formed like fallen dragons;
Now a rare sword, drawn from its sheath, flashes a snowy blade;
Now a great ship, cleaving the waves, speeds its gusty mast.
Paper gone, I fling down the brush with a lighting-and-thunder crash;
Womenfolk flee in astonishment, little boys run and hide.
Once I drafted a proclamation to chide the western realm;
Whirr, whirr, the sound of my brush stirred in the hall of state.
Then one day I turned my steps from court and suddenly ten years passed;
West I skimmed over the Three Pa, to the far end of Yeh-lang.
Mountains and rivers remote and wild, their customs strange;
Luckily there's fine wine, the kind to put me in a trance.
In the midst of drunkenness I pull the cap from my head; I permit no trace of frost to invade this green-black hair.
Gains and losses of a man's life ów truly a piddling matter;
Who says old age is so full of sorrow and woe?
-Tr. Watson, Burton

The "vermilion tower" refers to the government office. Lu Yu wrote, "Once I drafted a proclamation to chide the western realm; whirr, whirr, the sound of my brush stirred in the hall of state." This line referenced to the time the poet drafted a dispatch to be sent to the State His-hsia of Central Asia on the behalf of the Prime Minister.

Sitting Out doors:
Cap tipped back, propped by a window, still can't settle down;
Haul out the cane of Ch'iung bamboo, take a turn in the garden.
Clear autumn coming on ów dew soaks the grass;
Bright moon not yet risenów stars crowd the sky.
Barges shove through lock gates, racing for dawn markets;
Men on treadmills watering fields ów no night's sleep for them!
Plain people sweating like this for one square meal,
And I sit eating government dole ów wince whenever I think of it.
-Tr. Watson, Burton

In 1198, the poet was receiving grain as government pension (Watson, 324).

My Village Home:
Living's getting harder day by day ów
My house just goes on staying half finished
Flapping like butterflies ów torn window paper;
Cracked like a turtle shell ów dried mud walls.
In a light rain the cow pen turns soggy:
A touch of frost and the mill shed feels cold.
But the late grain at least is spared from insects ów
neighbors and I all sigh with relief.
Tr. Watson

"Spared from insects" refers to the fact that the grain in poet's village wasn't damaged by insects (Watson, 324).