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Poet Du Fu

Poet Du Fu

Du Fu

Du Fu (712-770) was born in Gongxian, Henan. The son of an official, Du was interested in learning ever since he was young. "I read ten thousand volumes until they were worn out," he said. At 20 he started his 10-year-long travels from north to south. At 35 he went to Chang'an, where he stayed for ten years without getting any position in the government.

His disappointment in life made him look at reality and see the sharp contrast between the life of the upper classes and that of the ordinary people. He began to write poems about the sufferings of the poor. After the An Lushan rebellion began he had a hard time as a refugee, but this brought him closer to the people. His well-known poems describing three officials and three departures were written during this period. In 759, he went to Chengdu. After wandering in Sichuan, Hubei, and Hunan for more than ten years, he finally died on board a small boat on his way from Changsha to Yueyang.

Deep sympathy for the people is one of the main characteristics of Du Fu's poems. In this respect he surpassed all earlier poets. His poems have been called "poetic history", for they reflect the political and military situation of his time and the life and miseries of the people. He pushed the tradition of realism in poetry to a new level.

Here are the first six lines from the poem "The Official of Shihao":

At dusk I came to Shihao Village to stay overnight,
And heard an official trying to catch someone after dark.
The old man in the house climbed over the wall and fled,
Leaving the old woman to face the official at the door.
Shouting loudly, the official was very angry;
Sobbing bitterly, the woman was full of sorrow.

Du Fu exposes the shameless luxury of the ruling class in these famous lines:

Behind the red doors wine and meat stink,
But on the roads lie men frozen to death.

Li Bai and Du Fu are among the greatest poets that China has produced. Their poems have given the Chinese people boundless inspiration and have been taken as models of poetry. Han Yu, also a famous Tang poet, wrote: "The works of Li and Du are there; their brilliant light will shine for ever."

Revised June 2, 2011