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Personal Expression in Tang Poetry

In a variety of ways, personal experiences and events that took place during the Tang Dynasty seem to have inspired the works of poets such as Du Fu and Li Bai. This essay is an analytical discussion of the elements of personal expression as depicted in the Tang poetry. Typically, the paper analyzes two works of poetry by Du Fu to show how this element manifests itself. Based on this analysis, Du Fu has succeeded to portray the aspect of personal expression in the Tang Poetry.

This paper analyzes the poems "Leaving Qinzhou" and "Song of the Army Carts" written by Du Fu. Scholars suggest that Du Fu (712-770) is probably the most reputable Chinese poet, as well as the epitome of the Tang literature. Asian Education (2012) explains that during the Tang dynasty, individuals were required to show significant literary skills to be appointed as government officials. As a young man, however, Du Fu failed to secure such a position. This failure led to his association with Li Bo, a man deeply devoted to Daoism. Asian Education (2012) explains that poetry was regarded as the most ennoble and explicit means of personal expression, as well as a fundamental tool in various fields such as philosophy and diplomacy. The poem "Leaving Qinzhou" is often described as Du Fu's "retirement" poem. In it, the poet seems exhausted and tired of his experiences after many years of waiting for an appointment by the Tang government.

Restraining himself to the utilization of metrical verses, Du Fu begins the poem with a description of his current physical state. In line one, the poet says that as he was approaching his death, he was growing lazy. According to Watson (67), Du Fu wrote this poem while leaving Qinzhou for Tonggu. Ideally, the poet had a difficult life after failing to receive a government appointment. Thus, he was impatient with his situation and decided to leave for Tonggu where food was plenty. In fact, he says that when he had no food left, he moved on to look for the "next life." This line clearly allows Du Fu to express the current situation of his life.

In line five, the poet also says that he had heard that the air in Tonggu was as mild as "fall." Additionally, in line eight he says that the streams and hills at Tonggu were fair. Du Fu uses a simile and personification in the two lines. On the one hand, he utilizes the first literary device to show the tranquility of the place he was going. On the other hand, he personifies the streams and hills to show that the Tang government was not fair since it did not offer him an appointment despite being a reputable poet.

Through this poem, he shows the hardships he had experienced while living in Qinzhou. He uses contradictory statements to show how impossible it had been for him to have a better life. In line 12 and 13, Du Fu says that in Tonggu, it was easy to reach for honey and one could sail a boat in pools that were cool and clear. However, to a certain extent, this kind of expression offers an insight regarding how vast the country was. Nonetheless, it is clear that Du Fu had not enjoyed any of these things in his early life.

In line 16 and 17, he hopes that the journey to Tonggu, although difficult and long, would at last provide him with rest. He actually claims that his life had been a "lifelong wandering" experience. In these lines, Du Fu's poem has succeeded to portray the element of personal expression in the Tang Poetry. Asian Education (2012) notes that during the Tang Dynasty, if an individual wanted to live a better life or acquire a reputable social status, he/she had to write poems. Critically, for a Chinese scholar, poetry was regarded as the embodiment of literary accomplishment, which paved the way for an appointment by the government. Contrastingly, this was not the case with Du Fu. Despite his literary skills, he repeatedly failed in his quest of becoming a government official.

In various instances, the poet has used the second poem to narrate the events that took place during the Tang Dynasty. For instance, in the first stanza, Du Fu says that the Bridge of Xianyang became covered with dust as carts rattled and Tang soldiers marched with bows hanging on their sides. In this poem, Du Fu narrates the activities of soldiers during the Tang Dynasty. Likening Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty to Xuanzong of the Tang Dynasty, Du Fu passes across a political message concerning the strength and might of the latter dynasty.

In conclusion, Du Fu seemed to have been inspired by the events that occurred during the Tang Dynasty, as well as by his personal experiences and encounters to write these poems. Consequently, he has succeeded to depict the element of personal expression in the Tang Poetry.

Works Cited



“Asian Education.” The Flourishing of Poetry in the Tang (618-906) and Song (960-1279) Dynasties. San Francisco, CA; Asian Art Museum (2012). Retrieved: http://education.asianart.org/explore-resources/background-information/flourishing-poetry-tang-618-906-and-song-960-1279-dynasties. Accessed 27 Feb. 2018

Watson, B. The Selected Poems of Du Fu. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002. Pg. 67-68

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