In China I often hear opinions stated as facts, so today I present to you: The two best Chinese poets, Li Bai and Dufu. These two are known by virtually all Chinese people, regardless of their level of education. I have chosen a few of their best short poems for you to read today to introduce you to some of the finer things in Chinese culture.
A few things you should know about Chinese poetry before reading these is that: 1. Poets were usually travelers 2. Poets typically will express Daoist (Taoist) ideals, often through images of nature 3. Poets were usually inspired by simple events, and wrote hundreds of poems 4. Poets were often drunk
Dufu, who lived just up the street from me in Chengdu several hundred years ago, wanted to be a civil servant, but failed to achieve this goal. He is often referred to as the “Poet-sage,” but like many great artists, his work was not highly appreciated in his lifetime. He lived during the Tang Dynasty, which is considered the high point of Chinese literature.
In autumn rain, the grasses rot and die,
Below the steps, the jueming’s colour is fresh.
Full green leaves cover the stems like feathers,
And countless flowers bloom like golden coins.
The cold wind, moaning, blows against you fiercely,
I fear that soon you’ll find it hard to stand.
Upstairs the scholar lets down his white hair,
He faces the wind, breathes the fragrance, and weeps.
I remember the temple, this route I’ve travelled before,
I recall the bridge as I cross it again.
It seems the hills and rivers have been waiting,
The flowers and willows all are selfless now.
The field is sleek and vivid, thin mist shines,
On soft sand, the sunlight’s colour shows it’s late.
All the traveller’s sorrow fades away,
What better place to rest than this?
Li Bai was a friend of Dufu’s and unlike his friend, was very much appreciated in his day. He is said to have written over 1,000 poems. This first one is an incredibly well known Chinese poem, and many Chinese children will have this and several of his other pieces memorized.
Before my bed, the moon is shining bright,
I think that it is frost upon the ground.
I raise my head and look at the bright moon,
I lower my head and think of home.
White dew grows on the marble steps,
And in the long night, soaks into my stockings.
But now I let the crystal curtain down,
And gaze through it at the autumn moon.
All of these translations are from www.chinese-poems.com