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Du Fu: A Life in Poetry


Du Fu (712–770) is one of the undisputed geniuses of Chinese poetry—still universally admired and read thirteen centuries after his death. Now David Young, author of Black Lab, and well known as a translator of Chinese poets, gives us a sparkling new translation of Du Fu’s verse, arranged to give us a tour of the life, each “chapter” of poems preceded by an introductory paragraph that situates us in place, time, and circumstance. What emerges is a portrait of a modest yet great artist, an ordinary man moving and ...

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Du Fu: A Life in Poetry

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Du Fu (712–770) is one of the undisputed geniuses of Chinese poetry—still universally admired and read thirteen centuries after his death. Now David Young, author of Black Lab, and well known as a translator of Chinese poets, gives us a sparkling new translation of Du Fu’s verse, arranged to give us a tour of the life, each “chapter” of poems preceded by an introductory paragraph that situates us in place, time, and circumstance. What emerges is a portrait of a modest yet great artist, an ordinary man moving and adjusting as he must in troubled times, while creating a startling, timeless body of work.

Du Fu wrote poems that engaged his contemporaries and widened the path of the lyric poet. As his society—one of the world’s great civilizations—slipped from a golden age into chaos, he wrote of the uncertain course of empire, the misfortunes and pleasures of his own family, the hard lives of ordinary people, the changing seasons, and the lives of creatures who shared his environment. As the poet chases chickens around the yard, observes tear streaks on his wife’s cheek, or receives a gift of some shallots from a neighbor, Young’s rendering brings Du Fu’s voice naturally and elegantly to life.

I sing what comes to me in ways both old and modern

my only audience right now—
nearby bushes and trees

elegant houses stand in an elegant row, too many

if my heart turns to ashes then that’s all right with me . . .

from “Meandering River”

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Not a biography, but instead a very coherent book of free translations, this new volume translated by Young (Black Lab) gives the sense of a life as lived, a life that belongs at once to Du Fu (712-770, also called Tu Fu) and to any sympathetic reader who has experienced beauty in nature, disillusion in politics, or love and trouble at home. These 168 poems, along with clear footnotes, also create a sense of the poet's own times. Du Fu began his poetic career as a bachelor writing beautiful seasonal poetry, a close friend of the great, and slightly older, poet Li Bai (Li Po). "Autumn again and you and I/ are thistledown in the wind," he told his friend in one early poem. But Du Fu married and began a family, and then, seeking noble patrons, had to travel through war zones. He wrote, in consequence, poems about conscription, battle, poverty and loneliness: "on my face new tears/ are running down familiar tracks." Search for secure employment later on brought him to far-flung provincial towns, where he produced his most tranquil verse: "here comes some tea and sugarcane juice/ brought down from the house." (Nov.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780375711602
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 11/4/2008
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 1,280,051
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

David Young has written ten books of poetry, including Black Lab (2006), At the White Window (2000), and The Planet on the Desk: Selected and New Poems (1991). He has also translated the poems of Petrarch and Eugenio Montale. A past winner of Guggenheim and NEA fellowships and a Pushcart Prize, he is the Longman Professor Emeritus of English and Creative Writing at Oberlin College, and the editor of the Field Poetry Series at Oberlin College Press. He lives in Oberlin, Ohio.

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Read an Excerpt

17. REMEMBERING LI BAI ON A SPRING DAYI know no poetry to equal hishis mind must be uniquefreshness of Yu XinBao Zhao’s delicacyas I watch the trees leaf outhere, north of the Weihe’s probably gazing at sunsetthere, east of the Yangziwhen can we sharea pot of wine againtalk on and on about poetryuntil it’s nearly daybreak?21. FRIENDSHIPA flick of the handand it’s rain or stormwherever I lookchange and ficklenessthe old ideal of friendshipas loyalty and permanencehas turned into dirtunder our feet.23–24. A SUMMER OUTINGIHow nice to board the bargeas the sun meets the horizonthe breeze picks upthe water rippleswe sail past grovesof thick bambooand anchor in the coolof water liliesthe young men mixsome icy drinksthe girls are slicinglotus rootsbut the clouds right overheadgrow blackrain makes me rushmy poem.IIThe shower wets the bencheswe were sitting onthe wind blows hardand rocks the boatthe southern girls’red skirts drenchedthe northern beautiesseem to have ruined their makeupthe mooring linesaws and cuts the willowthe barge’s curtains are soakedfrom breaking wavesour going homewill be wet and chillyas if we were having autumnright in the heart of summer.

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Table of Contents

1. Early Years in the East, 737–744
1. Writing Poems After Dinner at the Zuos’
2. On the Tower at Yanzhou
3. Gazing at Mount Tai
4. Fang’s Amazing Horse
5. A Painting of a Falcon
6. A Winter Visit to the Temple of “His Mystical Majesty” North of Luoyang
7. Mr. Song’s Deserted Villa
8. Visiting the Fengxian Monastery
9. For Li Bai
10–11. I Write Two Poems On the Wall at Zhang’s
12. Feast at Stone Gate with Liu and Zheng
13. To Li Bai
14. Li Bai and I Visit the Hermit Fan

2. Back at the Capital, 745–750
15. Thinking of Li Bai On a Winter Day
16. What a Night!
17. Remembering Li Bai On a Spring Day
18. Answer to a Letter From My Brother About the Floods
19. Eight Gods of the Wine Cup
20. Meipi Lake
21. Friendship
22. Farewell to Kong Chaofu
23–24. A Summer Outing
25. Leyou Park

3. War and Rebellion, 750–755
26. Song of the War Carts
27–30. From Serving at the Front
31–34. From Visiting General He
35. New Year’s Eve at Du Wei’s
36–38. From Back at General He’s
39. Climbing the Buddhist Pagoda
40–42. Meandering River
43. Gorgeous Women
44–46. Sighing Over the Autumn Rains
47. I Finally Get a Post
48. Five Hundred Words About My Journey to Fengxian
4. Trapped in the Capital, 756–758
49. Moonlight Night
50. The Battle at Chentao
51. Facing Snow
52. News of My Brothers
53. Spring Scene
54. Thinking of My Son
55. In the Abbot’s Cell
56. the Pengya Road

5. Reunion and Recovery, 758–759
57. Jade Flower Palace
58–60. Qiang Village Poems
61. From the Journey North
62–63. Meandering River
64. Too Much Heat and Too Much Work
65. Dreaming of Li Bai
66. In the City on Business I Meet One Friend and We Spend the Night Eating and Drinking At the House of Another

6. On the Move, 759
67. Thinking of My Brothers On a Moonlit Night
68–71. Qinzhou Poems
72. Thirty Bundles of Shallots
73. Abbot Zan
74. New Moon
75. Looking Out at the Plain
76. She Thinks of Him While Pounding Laundry
77. The Cricket
78. Leaving Qinzhou
79–85. The Tonggu Songs
86. Leaving Tonggu

7. Thatched Cottage, 759–762
87. Chengdu City
88. Siting a House
89. I Become a Farmer
90. River Village
91. Poling a Skiff
92. A Guest
93. Retirement
94. I Am a Madman
95. An Autumn Storm and Our Thatched Roof
96. Rain on a Spring Night
97–103. Seven For the Flowers Near the River
104–112. Random Feelings
113. Sundown Song

8. More Disruptions, 762–765
114. At Fengji Station: Second Farewell to Yan Wu
115. Song of My Friendship With Vice Prefect Yan
116. Sent to Be Written on the Wall of My Thatched Cottage
117. Good News About the War
118. Two Swallows
119. Saying Good-Bye at Fang Guan’s Grave
120. Climbing the Tower
121. Spending the Night at Headquarters
122. Weary Night
123–126. From Spring in the River Village

9. East to Kuizhou, 765–766
127. Farewell to Mr. Zhang
128. Moving to Kuizhou City
129. The Women Who Gather Firewood
130. The Tied-Up Chickens
131. Song For an Ancient Cypress
132. Overnight at the River Pavilion
133. Watching the Rain From the West Apartment
134–141. Autumn Thoughts
142. Filling in the Time
143. A Parrot
144. Night at the West Apartment
145. Old and Sick

10. the Gentleman Farmer, 767–768
146–147. Spring
148. Watching Fireflies
149–153. Five Poems on the Autumn Fields
154–155. Back and Forth Between Nang-West and East Village
156. Thinking About My Brother
157. September Full Moon
158. Note for Mr. Wu
159. From a Height
160. Drunk, I Fell Off My Horse
161. Deaf
162–163. Thoughts and Feelings
164. Giving Away My Orchard

11. Last Days
165. Night Thoughts Traveling
166. Drinking in the Library
167. Mourning Li Zhifang
168. Yueyang Tower
169. White Horse
170. Ready to Go

Selected Bibliography

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