Analysis of the Developing Themes in Chinese Poetry: Case Study of Li Po and Tu Fu
Chinese poetry has remained as one of the most in-depth and engaging forms of history from early civilizations. Chinese poetry develops a rich sense of the Chinese culture and consequent impact on the philosophical, political, and social constructs within the society (Li and Jinghua, 17). Chinese poetry developed as a key concept of earlier civilization culture and was regarded as a vital aspect of the community, as it provided a record of the society underpinnings through the depiction of the societal processes and aspects from the poet’s views. The existence of great poets facilitates the importance attached to Chinese poetry as the existence of numerous poetic depictions facilitate review of the society constructs from varied viewpoints that provides perspective into the societal processes and cultures (Kao and Jurafsky 6).
Li Po and Tu Fu have been considered some of the greatest Chinese poets as the poems developed by the poets incorporated a large variety of themes and factors that provide a glimpse into the early Chinese society and culture. Li Po and Tu Fu incorporated in-depth analysis of the culture, social aspects of the society, and the existent political structures that shaped the Chinese society during the period. The analysis of the social-cultural concepts incorporated by the poets remain crucial to modern day China and poetry as they provide an analysis of the traditional Chinese concepts and themes in a manner that develops a link to the modern day situation and concepts. The two poets incorporate several similarities and variances in relation to the style adopted in writing poetry together with the themes incorporated within their individual work (Frdija and Louise, 227).
The integration of a literary analysis of the poets develops as the focal aspect of the study as it seeks to integrate an analysis of the works of Li Po and Tu Fu from an individual and combined perspective. The analysis remains crucial in the identification of the developing themes, which facilitate the informative aspect of the study in relation to the social-cultural and political construct of the study during the poet’s period. The review of the presented themes will remain crucial in the identification of the existent similarities and differences pertaining to the literary works presented by the poets within their individual pieces. The analysis remains important to the study as it will provide a depiction of the key themes developing during the period and the impact of the social-cultural constructs on the society.
The study will explore the themes of friendship, nature, politics, family, loyalty, service, beauty, and relaxation developed by Li Po and Tu Fu. The integration of an analysis of the developing themes remains crucial to the poets and the society during the period. The developing themes from both authors remain crucial to the study as they provide an understanding of the period’s societal constructs and the measures adopted by the society for coping and dealing with varied themes in relation to their impact in the population. The review of the themes will provide an informative aspect and viewpoint into the poet’s period through the provision of specifics regarding the existent happenings and developments at the period.
The study will remain inclined towards Tu Fu’s work, which provides an informative and rich element to the study as it integrates poetry from a personal standpoint that provides a review into the impact of the existent societal processes and structures on the daily lives of individuals within the population. Increased emphasis on Tu Fu’s works will provide the study with an exploratory view into the poems as it will provide an analysis of the developing themes during the period that directly affected the dynasty through a review of the personal experienced provided by Tu Fu. However, the study will also incorporate some of the themes developed by Li Po, as they remain crucial in the appreciation of the lifestyle choices adopted within the early Chinese periods. The main point of argument developed by the study would be the identification of the importance of poetry in the construction of the political, social-cultural, and philosophical underpinnings of the Chinese culture that influence the modern age through the relayed perceptions developing from the poetry.
Tu Fu’s poems provide a vivid review of the political atmosphere and structure adopted during the period. As a government official, Tu Fu had sought to provide service to the dynasty by maintaining unfailing loyalty to the emperor and the existent systems in place. The identification of the emperor’s authority provided an in-depth view into the adopted political structure during the period. The emperorship have developed into a successive form of leadership adopted within the civilization whereby in most instances, the emperor was succeeded by the son as the leader of the dynasty. However, in some instances, the son would forcefully take up the emperor’s position leading to exile of the present emperor, in this case, the father (Green et al. n.d.).
The emperor was regarded as the people’s leader and was charged with the duty of ensuring that the kingdom prospered in all aspects with emphasis on the economic element, which was considered paramount for enhancing overall societal growth and development. The emperor was regarded as a key figure of the society and hence considered vital in the facilitation of a symbol of unity and peace within the society (Fenollosa et al., 52). The possibility of a coup was unpreserved as it spelt unprofaned levels of anarchy within the population attributed to the existent operational processes adopted. However, a coup may have been considered necessary in the case that emperor was considered unfit of their duties or reluctant in the adoption of processes and structures necessary in the growth of the Kingdom through additional conquests in the face of the army generals and general counsel. In this regard, Tu Fu states through the poem ‘On the Border, First Series’ that;
“If you draw a bow, draw a strong one; if you use an arrow, use one that’s long. If you want to shoot a man, shoot his horse first; if you want to seize the enemy, seize the leader first (p. 221).”
The passage highlights the need of conquest and the importance of the adoption of a strategic policy in relation to an adopted conquest. Through the above passage, the emperor’s son seized the region by eliminating the father as emperor and since the emperor is regarded as the figurehead of the society and symbol of unity. The son upon seizing the throne was immediately considered as the new head of state necessitating the escape into exile for all officials working under the father, the previous emperor. The passage highlights the importance of the development of strategies during the period among the rulers and potential rules as the developed strategies were considered key in maintaining one’s positions as the ruler or the development of conquests and considered adoption of the leadership position.
Involvement of the citizens in the emperors’ army was considered a privilege, as the soldiers were able to provide the emperor with service through the provision of a defense and conquest of new lands front as soldiers in the army. Tu Fu incorporates a new perspective into the soldier’s service to the emperor through the identification of the soldier’s vulnerability in relation to the operational capacity and processes.
“We recruits have our own commanders to send us off, but, bound for distant duty, we’re people too! From here we go out to face life or death no cause for the officers to scowl at us so! Along the route we come on someone we know, give him a letter to hand to close kin. Sad as it is, we and they are parted now, no longer to share the same troubles and pain (p. 221).”
Through the passage, Tu Fu provides an emotional and personal view of the soldier in relation to the provision of service to the emperor in service and the impact on the family and one’s well-being while in service. The passage highlights the emotional constraint of the war and potential view of death on the soldiers, as they remain aware of the possibility of death and lack of reunification with family attributed to the provided scenario. Additionally, the scenario provides a sense of both hopelessness and hope as the soldiers are yearning for an opportunity to reunite with their families, but remain aware of the possibility of death. However, the level of the soldiers’ dedication to service to the emperor highlights the level of loyalty maintained by the subjects to the government. Additionally, Tu Fu also remains loyal to the emperor despite the coup, which leads to the reenactment of the original position provided to Tu Fu prior to the coup. The poems developed by Tu Fu position loyalty as one of the key societal concepts held in high regard in relation to the adopted processes in the society that maintain adherence to the adopted governing structures. The level of loyalty has been compounded in Tu Fu’s ‘Passing Chao-Ling again’ poem, which is in reference to the mausoleum to the emperor Tai-tsung who was the second ruler of the Tang and the one who remains responsible for the founding of the dynasty.
“From ride darkness the heroes rose; amid songs of praise, destiny chose him; in wind and dust, his three-foot sword, amour donned for the altars of the land; wings to his father, pure in civil virtue; heir of the great charge, wielder of war’s might; his holy vision wide and huge as heaven, in service of ancestors more radiant than the sun. The mound-side chamber lies wrapped in empty slopes; warriors; bear-like to guard the blue-green hill. Once more, I gaze upon the pine and cypress road, watching five hued clouds drift by (p. 225).”
The above passage depicts the glory of the empire and the dynasty in relation to the heroism element of the ruler and importance of the ruler in the growth of the dynasty and maintenance of peace. The passage highlights the importance of ancestors in the Chinese culture as the ancestors remained instrumental in the success of the emperor at war and additional conquests. The ancestors are regarded highly within the Chinese community as they provide guidance in the direction adopted by rules and seek to ensure continuous growth and efficiency of the dynasty. However, the last sentence in the passage provides a melancholy feel to the dynasty as Tu Fu’s view of the clouds drift by may be regarded as the slow demise of the emperors dynasty, which remains indicative of the impending coup and the level of anarchy to be experienced within the dynasty. Additionally, the last phrase may be interpreted as the impending demise and doom of the emperor’s rule attributed to poor interest in the governance matters of the dynasty, but instead the emperor remains infatuated by a mistress, which spells the doom of the emperors ruling period (Chang 56).
The concept of family develops into a key theme within the work of both Tu Fu and Li Po as family is regarded a vital component of the Chinese culture (Sundararajan 655). The Chinese culture integrates a collectivist society, which places emphasis on the development of a communal culture that highlights the importance of the society and the community. Tu Fu highlights the importance of family to the society through the poems as depicted in the poem relating to the soldiers sentiments that highlight a yearning for family after service in the army. Additionally, upon the rebellion, Tu Fu highlights the importance for family by first seeking to ensure that the family fled to safety prior to engaging in activities geared to promote Tu Fu’s loyalty to the emperor. The reference to family in relation to the rebellion highlights the challenges encountered by families in certain situations and the need for the integration of decisions and processes geared towards protecting one’s family from potential or imminent harm presented in the society.
“I remember when we first fled the rebels, hurrying north over dangerous rails; night deepened on Peng-ya Rod, the moon shone over white-water Hills. A whole family endlessly trudging… (p. 223).”
The above passage highlights the importance of a family unit through tough times. Tu Fu’s poetry provides an in-depth and raw review of the existent challenges faced by families during the period, which provides a depiction of the importance of the family unit. The concept of family is further expounded by Tu Fu while in captivity where he laments about the position in captivity on behalf of his wife as he wonders what the wife will tell of the children regarding their father.
“From her room in Fu-chou tonight, all alone she watches the moon. Far away, I grieve that her children can’t understand why she thinks of Ch’ag-an. Fragrant mist in her hair damp, clear luccene on her jade arms cold, when will we lean by chamber curtains and let it light the two of us, out tear stains dried (p. 224)?”
The passage presents a sense of worry, care, and sadness on the side for Tu Fu for the wife regarding the emotional turmoil she is undergoing while in captive as she deals with the turmoil and raising the children in exile. The sense of care for the wife and well-being of the family highlights the importance held for family in the culture as the fathers seeks to ensure that the family remains well-catered for at all times. Tu Fu’s narration while in captivity highlights the negative impact of political turmoil on the society as it leads to the separation of families and economic turmoil, which delimits overall societal growth. Therefore, the family theme reconnects back to the political theme and the importance places on family within the Chinese culture. Li Po highlights the importance and yearning for family, which is illustrated in the poem titled ‘sent to my children in the East of Lu.’
‘Wu land mulberry leaves grow green, already Wu silkworms have slept three times. I left my family in the east of Lu; who sows our fields there in the dark side of Mt. Kuei?…Ping Yang my darling girl picks blossoms, learning by the peach, picks blossoms and does not see me; her tears flow like a welling fountain. The little boy named Po-Ch’in (p. 215).”
The review of the family aspect provides a new perspective on Li Po’s poetry as he refrains from the adoption of personal narratives that provide an insight into one’s personal struggles. The passage provides a glimpse into Li Po’s family life, which highlights the importance of family in the Chinese culture.
The socio-cultural impact of the power change is highlighted in the poem titled ‘lovely lady’ (p. 226). The poem provides a narration of the aftermath of the coup where a lady’s family has been killed and the husband has abandoned the lady for a younger girl in the population. The poem provides a description of the literal impact of a rebellion on the society as the woman hailed from a distinguished family, but all members are killed and she is left alone and poor. The description may also remain in reference to the nature of the dynasty whereby prior to the rebellion, the emperor and perceived peace was considered paramount by the society and existent processes. However, the onset of the rebellion highlighted the lacking parts and areas presented by the adopted governance structure, which necessitates the development of a rebellion. As previously highlighted, the Chinese society and culture adopts a collectivist stance, which influences the adopted governance structures geared towards facilitating total societal growth (Van Crevel 78). Therefore, the rebellion was influenced by the lack of viable governance structures that catered to the needs of the entire population.
The passage develops upon the theme of romance, which has been highlighted in the poem together with Li Po’s work whereby, romance has been adopted as one of the key facets of the Chinese culture between man and wife. In this context, romance may be regarded as a sub-theme of developing from the poems written by both Tu Fu and Li Po. The development of the romance sub-theme may be perceived in relation to the existent governance structure whereby the servants and citizens remain loyal to the emperor.
The theme of friendship has been highlighted as one of the key and developing themes within the poems developed by both Tu Fu and Li Po. The theme of friendship directly correlates with entertainment and wine, which developed into a key factor adopted by both poets that signified celebration and appreciation of a good time among all the individuals. Li Po prioritizes the theme of friendship in the bulk of his writings as illustrated in the poem ‘a Night with a Friend’.
“Dousing clean a thousand old cares, sticking it out through a hundred pots of wine, a good night needing the best of conversation, a brilliant moon that will not keep us asleep. Drunk we lie down in empty hills, heaven and earth our quilt and pillow (p. 212).”
The poem highlights the theme of friendship highlighted by the level of conversation among the individuals and reference to the friend in the poem. The poem intertwines the theme of friendship to wine and entertainment, as friends were considered vital in facilitating conversation, entertainment, and a point of solace that involved drinking wine. In the poem titled ‘Seeing off a friend’, Li Po compounds in the friendship theme.
‘Green hills sloping from the northern wall, white water rounding the eastern city: once parted from this place the lone weed tumbles ten thousand miles. Drifting clouds-a travelers thoughts; setting sun-an old friend’s heart. Wave hands and let us take leave now hisiao-hsiao our hesitant horses neighing (p. 212).”
The concept of wine has developed as one of the key themes developing from Li Po’s work as Li Po identifies wine as a key element of celebration and realization adopted within the society. In the poem, ‘bring the wine!’ Li Po highlights the importance of wine to the society as it creates the entertainment basis among friends and acquaintances.
“Have you never seen the Yellow River waters descending from the sky, racing restless towards the ocean, never to return? Have you never seen bright mirrors in high walls, the white-haired ones lamenting, their black silk of morning by evening turned to snow? If life is to have meaning, seize every joy you can; do not let the golden cask sit idle in the moonlight! Heaven gave me talents and meant them to be used; gold scattered by the thousand come to me again. Boil the mutton; roast the ox-we will be merry…(p. 207).”
In relation to Li Po’s poems, wine is considered a viable element to enjoyment and relaxation as it provides an avenue for bringing people together. Li Po incorporates fantasy, which is depicted within the poem through the provision of a narration format that provides a sense of fantasy and release that is associated with the ‘drunk’ feeling. Li Po presents numerous poems that highlight the existence of a strong bond between friends and highlights the importance of maintaining positive relations within the Chinese society. Upon escape from the rebels, Tu Fu maintains that the development of strong friendships remained crucial in ensuring that the family fled to safety and had a place to live while he returned and was consequently in captivity. In this context, the theme of friendship has been presented as an important theme within the culture and the society.
In contrast to Tu Fu’s poems, the majority of Li Po’s poems place emphasis on fun and enjoyment of life and rarely delves into personal matters. The level of contrast derived from the poems provides an insight into two varied aspects of the Chinese culture. Li Po’s poems integrate a blend of modern and traditional Chinese culture in a manner that supports the ideals presented by traditional culture in a facet that may ease integration in the modern society. The developing link highlights the innovative aspect of Li Po’s work that highlights a high sense of creativity while maintaining the developed ideals relating to the culture and consequent need for the integration of the stipulations in a manner relatable to current times. The development of the link provides room for the next theme, which incorporates an element of self-reflection and nostalgia that depicts the need for a return of the old days incorporated by both poets in their work (Zeng, 137).
Li Po and Tu Fu’s poems integrate a view of nostalgia in relation to reminisce of the past and consequent influence on the present. Prior to the rebellion, Tu Fu was a government official and reveled in the position, which considered coveted and a hard fete. In the course of the service, Tu Fu had become accustomed to the developed way of life that involved interactions with other officials in the government. The level of nostalgia is highlighted in the poem, ‘Song of the Beautiful Ladies’ (p. 222). The poem provides a rare view of the activities adopted within the emperor palace among all individuals within the palace. The section provides a nostalgic feel that highlights the potential for the desire for the maintenance of the societal processes and governance in the initial format prior to the rebellion.
In the poem, ‘At Sue Terrace viewing the Past’ (p. 208), Li Po view nature with a nostalgic feel that highlights the level of deterioration attributed to lack of the necessary level of care within the emperor’s residence.
“Old gardens, a ruined terrace, willow trees new; calltop gatherers, clear chant of songs, a spring unbearable; and now there is only the west river moon that shone once on a lady in the palace of the King of Wu.”
Nature develops into a key theme within Li Po’s poems, as it identifies an important facet of the Chinese culture and has been identified as a vital source of healing through medicinal herbs. Apart from the medicinal element, Li Po incorporates a renewed sense of appreciation for culture presented within the society through the identification of the beauty presented by culture through the mountains, rivers, streams, oceans, and grasslands. The analogy depicted in the phrase develops a link to the political atmosphere at the period as it depicts the level of deterioration attached to the ruling structure through the adoption of unfavorable and unrepresentative policies. The existence of ruined terraces highlights the level of ruin in relation to the existent political structure and a desire for the return of the glory period that maintained proper governance structures (Lavrac 8). The integration of nostalgic stances pertaining to the past identify the impact of the past has on the poets and the current society as the serenity experienced in the past has developed into a far-fetched dream. The fantasy literature incorporated by Li Po provides a momentary view of the reflection and experience off the past through the provided reminisces and visual developments of the past in contrast to the present. The review of the past highlights the stark changes in the existent governance structure and lifestyle among the majorot5y of the population, which remains descriptive of the existence of an oppressive regime that delimits some previously experienced luxuries and amenities to the population.
The study has provided an in-depth analysis of the poems presented by both Tu Fu and Li Po, which provide a rich history of the Chinese culture through the identification of the key facets incorporated within the culture considered instrumental in compounding the cultural ideals and processes. The poems provide an interactive element to the developing themes as they incorporate raw emotions and personal references in relation to Tu Fu pertaining to several themes and sub themes such as politics and family, loyalty, and romance. The review of Li Po’s work provides an analysis of the existent link between traditional and modern culture through the incorporation of processes that highlight the existent link. The development of a correlation pertaining to the cultural elements by Li Po provides an insight into traditional culture and consequent impact on modernity. The analysis delved towards Tu Fu’s poems as they presented a wide array of themes including politics, family, and nostalgia. Li Po’s poems focused on nature and entertaining, which developed a balance between both poets through the identification of the function and lifestyle aspects of the Chinese society during the period. Therefore, both poems provided a complimentary element to each other as they highlighted the various changes experienced within the society relating to the adopted societal aspects and processes.