Poet Bai Juyi

Poet Bai Juyi

Bai Juyi

Two years after Du Fu died, another great poet was born. Bai Juyi (772-846), the son of a petty official, was born in Xinzheng, Henan. He spent much of his youth as a wanderer in order to escape ongoing wars, and often went cold and hungry as a result. However, he was successful in the civil service examinations, became an official, and worked in the central government for about 15 years.

However, because he was disliked by those in power, he was then sent to work in Jiangzhou (now Jiujiang), Hangzhou, and Suzhou. Later he moved to Luoyang, where he died at the age of 75.

Bai Juyi wrote more poems than any other Tang poet-nearly 3,000. Many of them deal with important social and political problems, and show signs of Du Fu's influence. He also wrote many lyrics expressing his personal feelings. His two long narrative poems-"The Everlasting Sorrow" and "The Song of a Pipa Player"-are among the best known. Many of his poems have deep meaning, and they are written in simple and plain language, which ordinary readers can understand.

The following are a few lines from "The Old Man with a Broken Arm":

        In the south and in the north of my village people wept sadly;
        Children were parting from parents and husbands from wives.
        Everyone said that in battles against the southern tribes,
        Of ten thousand men sent there not one returned.

The poem clearly shows the poet's opposition to battles against border tribes, which caused miseries to both Han and tribal poeple.

In "The Song of a Pipa Player" there are these lines describing the beautiful music produced by the Pipa:

        Strong and loud, the thick string sounded like a sudden shower;
        Weak and soft, the thin string whispered in your ear.
        When strong and weak, loud and soft sounds were mixed,
        They were like big and tiny pearls falling on a jade plate.

Revised June 13, 2011