The Selected Poems of Tu Fu

 

Tu Fu is generally acknowledged to be the greatest of China's poets. Aside from the sheer power of his work, this acclaim derives most fundamentally from Tu Fu's remarkable range. His range is so great, in fact, that virtually all modes of Chinese poetry can be found in his work. His poems address all aspects of human experience, from the intimate and concrete to the political and abstract, and these different dimensions are often combined in a single poem. And although the radical innovations of his poetry denied him recognition during his own lifetime, his work soon inspired such dissimilar poetics as Po Chü-i's plain-spoken social realism and Meng Chiao's black, quasi-surreal introspection.

 

A catastropohic civil war broke out in Tu Fu's 44th year, devastating the country and leaving two-thirds of the people either dead or cast adrift as homeless refugees. This situation is a constant presence in his major poems, nearly all of which were written during these war years. Tu Fu spent these years wandering the outer fringes of the Chinese cultural sphere, forced every few years to flee the fighting, and it was this exile wandering that provided him with his unique perspective. Though he responded poetically at the level of immediate experience, Tu achieved a panoramic view of the human drama: he saw it as part of China's vast landscape of natural process. Poised between black despair and exquisite beauty, his was a geologic perspective, a vision of the human cast against the elemental sweep of the universe.

 

                       — from the book jacket

 

 

New Directions