July 4, 2008KR BlogUncategorized

Tu Fu

Edward Field’s entry in The Poet’s Bookshelf II sent me to the slim 1962 Selected Poems of Tu Fu, translated by Rewi Alley, and published by the Foreign Languages Press in the People’s Republic of China.

I’d like to share a couple of poems by Tu Fu. They have to do with an inability to do anything. Tu Fu takes his powerlessness in the face of war, time, poverty, old age, solitude, and winter, and serves it up all at once.


Over the battlefields
There are many new ghosts
Who weep; and I, an old man,
Sit alone, bitterly looking
Out on the wild clouds
That dull the sky, and
At the snowflakes that dance
In the whirling wind;
The gourd ladle lies beside
An empty wine pot; I can
But imagine that the stove
Gives heat; no news from
Many districts; I sit in
Desperation; really, this
Is all too impossible!


Even though a state is crushed
Its hills and streams remain;
Now inside the walls of Changan
Grasses rise high among unpruned trees;
Seeing flowers come, a flood
Of sadness overwhelms me; cut off
As I am, songs of birds stir
My heart; third month and still
Beacon fires flare as they did
Last year; to get news
From home would be worth a full
Thousand pieces of gold;
Trying to knot up my hair
I find it grey, too thin
For my pin to hold it together.

These aren’t nature poems–nor are they strictly political, or personal. Without strain, they’re all of the above and more for not being any exclusive one.

It’s safe to say Tu Fu (712-770 AD) did not have internet access; certainly, the above would be different if he did. He’d hear from family over email, check Raw Story for news. More than anything, in a world of immediacy and interconnection, Tu Fu’s poems would lose their sense of time. His time’s scale is large. Seasons barely pass. While we fast forward through commercials, he watches flowers arrive!