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December 26, 2010

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杜甫 Du Fu (AD 712-770) Suffering poetry saint

Du Fu, a distinguished poet of the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907), has been widely deemed as an undisputed genius of Chinese poetry. As Li Bai, another preeminent poet of the Tang Dynasty, is known as the "God of Poetry," Du is named by many critics as the "Saint of Poem."

But unlike Li, who enjoyed a reputation as a star poet during his lifetime, Du was not recognized as an outstanding poet until nearly 130 years after his death.

Du was born near Luoyang in today's Henan Province. Du received traditional education in his childhood by reciting Confucian classics and preparing for the imperial civil service examinations. But he was a very diligent student. He described himself as "having studied ten thousand books and being able to write with godly power."

He began to write poems when he was only 15. However, he failed twice in his attempt to pass the imperial civil service examination. As a result, he spent a lot of his time traveling around the country and writing poems.

In AD 744, he met Li Bai and the two poets immediately forged a friendship that later found its way into many dramas and literary works. The two poets also devoted a number of poems to each other.

After a long wait in Chang'an, today's captial of Shaanxi Province, Du was eventually offered a minor position in the imperial court. But soon, the An Lushan rebellion broke out and Du was captured by the rebels, but later escaped. Later, he served another short period in the court. After he offended the emperor, he was banished. In the fall of AD 759, he left the capital and spent the following nine years in Sichuan in southwest China.

He lived in his famous "Thatched-Cottage" in Chengdu, the provincial capital and led a quiet life there. With the financial aid from Yan Wu, governor of the Chengdu area, his time in Sichuan turned out to be the most fruitful period of his poetic career. He wrote more than 400 poems there.

However, various ailments began to trouble the poor poet. After his friend Yan Wu died in AD 765, Du left Chengdu, traveling down the Yangtze River. He was hindered in a number places along the river by his poor health. Eventually, he died of illness on a boat in the winter of AD 770.

As a poet, Du is known for his creative artistic skill, rich imagination, deep compassion, unfailing wit and humor. Also, he is sometimes called the poet of history for he recorded the turbulent times in his poems.

Even today, most people learn about Du's life through his poems, which depict his sufferings, exiles, failures, illness and other personal calamities, though some critics believe the description of his personal experiences and feelings is a bit exaggerated.

But, nearly all are convinced that Du suffered periods of extreme personal hardship. He witnessed the heartbreaking plight of common people and the widespread corruption of the court and officials. In his poems, Du expressed profound compassion for his fellow countrymen. In one of his most famous poems, "My Cottage Unroofed by Autumn Gales," the poet writes:

How could I get thousands of capacious houses,

So I could provide shelter for all the poor under heaven

And let their beam with smiles,

In wind and rain, these mansions would stand unshaking like mountains!

Alas, when such houses would appear in front of my eyes,

I'd be content if only my cottage collapses

And I myself is frozen to death.


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