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Wang Wei. (J. Ō I; K. Wang Yu 王維) (701–761). Chinese poet, painter, and musician during the Tang dynasty and close associate of masters in the early CHAN school; his cognomen was Mojie. In 721, Wang Wei passed the imperial civil service examination and was appointed as assistant director of the Imperial Music Office. By 759, shortly after the An Lushan rebellion, he had risen to the high bureaucratic rank of right assistant director of the Department of State Affairs. Wang Wei is known to have maintained close relationships with several major figures in the thriving Chan tradition and wrote the funerary inscriptions for such monks as JINGJUE (683–c. 760), author of the LENGQIE SHIZI JI, and the sixth patriarch (LIUZU) HUINENG. Although there is no direct evidence of Buddhist influences in his writing, it is commonly asserted that his close relations with these Chan figures contributed to Wang Wei’s subtle and reflective descriptions of nature in his landscape poetry.
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1:To be a stranger in a strange land: ~ Wang Wei
2:O Day after day we can't help growing older. ~ Wang Wei
3:Round a turn of the Qin Fortress winds the Wei River, ~ Wang Wei
4:A traveler s thoughts in the night Wander in a thousand miles of dreams. ~ Wang Wei
5:Watching wild landscapes I forget distance
and come to the water's edge. ~ Wang Wei
6:Look in the perfumes of flowers and of nature for peace of mind and joy of life. ~ Wang Wei
7:A new home by a gap in the Meng wall; Of the old trees, a few gnarled willows are left. Those who come in the future, who will they be, Grieving in vain for what others had before? ~ Wang Wei
8:Seated alone by shadowy bamboos,
I strum my lyre and laugh aloud;
None know that I am here, deep in the woods;
Only the bright moon comes to shine on me.
~ Wang Wei
9:How could sufferings be relieved through purification? To know the Path is to get lost at the ford. Indeed, sickness comes from worldly love And poverty begins with the pursuit of greed. ~ Wang Wei
10:The autumn hill gathers the remaining light, A flying bird chases after its companion. The green color is bright And brings me into the moment, like a sunset mist that has no fixed place. ~ Wang Wei
11:The autumn hill gathers the remaining light,
A flying bird chases after its companion.
The green color is bright
And brings me into the moment,
like a sunset mist that has no fixed place ~ Wang Wei
12:Walking on willow tree roads by a river dappled with peach blossoms, I look for spring light, but am everywhere lost. Birds fly up and scatter floating catkins. A ponderous wave of flowers sags the branches. ~ Wang Wei
13:Alone in the dense bamboo, I sit playing my lute, humming along. Lost to this world, who will notice but the bright moon shining? from Bamboo Cottage: Poems and Translations, by Doug Westendorp
~ Wang Wei, Bamboo Cottage
14:This narrow path beneath the great trees is edged darkly with thick greening moss. We keep it swept clean before the gate, in expectation of wandering mountain monks. from Bamboo Cottage: Poems and Translations, by Doug Westendorp
~ Wang Wei, Temple Tree Path
15:No one is seen in deserted hills, only the echoes of speech are heard. Sunlight cast back comes deep in the woods and shines once again upon the green moss. [1965.jpg] -- from An Anthology of Chinese Literature: Beginnings to 1911, Translated by Stephen Owen
~ Wang Wei, Deer Fence
16:I burned incense, swept the earth, and waited
for a poem to come...
Then I laughed, and climbed the mountain,
leaning on my staff.
How I'd love to be a master
of the blue sky's art:
see how many sprigs of snow-white clouds
he’s brushed in so far today ~ Wang Wei
17:I dwell apart by the River Qi, Where the Eastern wilds stretch far without hills. The sun darkens beyond the mulberry trees; The river glistens through the villages. Shepherd boys depart, gazing back to their hamlets; Hunting dogs return following their men. When a man's at peace, what business does he have? I shut fast my rustic door throughout the day.
~ Wang Wei, Fields and Gardens by the River Qi
18:Clear waters drift through the immensity of a tall forest.
In front of me a huge river mouth
receives the long wind.
Deep ripples hold white sand
and white fish swimming as in a void.
I sprawl on a big rock,
billows nourishing my humble body.
I gargle with water and wash my feet.
A fisherman pauses out on the surf.
So many fish long for bait. I look
only to the east with its lotus leaves. ~ Wang Wei
19:In my middle years I love the Dao and by Deep South Mountain I make my home. When happy I go alone into the mountains. Only I understand this joy. I walk until the water ends, and sit waiting for the hour when clouds rise. If I happen to meet an old woodcutter, I chat with him, laughing and lost to time. [1508.jpg] -- from To Touch the Sky: Poems of Mystical, Spiritual & Metaphysical Light, Translated by Willis Barnstone
~ Wang Wei, My Cottage at Deep South Mountain
20:Autumn is crisp and the firmament far, especially far from where people live. I look at cranes on the sand and am immersed in joy when I see mountains beyond the clouds. Dusk inks the crystal ripples. Leisurely the white moon comes out. Tonight I am with my oar, alone, and can do everything, yet waver, not willing to return. [1508.jpg] -- from To Touch the Sky: Poems of Mystical, Spiritual & Metaphysical Light, Translated by Willis Barnstone
~ Wang Wei, Drifting on the Lake
21:After fresh rain on the empty mountain comes evening and the cold of autumn. The full moon burns through the pines. A brook transparent over the stones. Bamboo trees crackle as washerwomen go home and lotus flowers sway as fisherman's boat slips downriver. Though the fresh smell of grass is gone, a prince is happy in these hills. [1508.jpg] -- from To Touch the Sky: Poems of Mystical, Spiritual & Metaphysical Light, Translated by Willis Barnstone
~ Wang Wei, Living in the Mountain on an Autumn Night
22:Clear waters drift through the immensity of a tall forest. In front of me a huge river mouth receives the long wind. Deep ripples hold white sand and white fish swimming as in a void. I sprawl on a big rock, billows nourishing my humble body. I gargle with water and wash my feet. A fisherman pauses out on the surf. So many fish long for bait. I look only to the east with its lotus leaves. [1508.jpg] -- from To Touch the Sky: Poems of Mystical, Spiritual & Metaphysical Light, Translated by Willis Barnstone
~ Wang Wei, Cooling Off
23:Creeks and summits are brilliant at sunset. I laze in a boat, my way in the wind's hands. Watching wild landscapes I forget distance and come to the water's edge. Gazing at lovely far woods and clouds I guess I've lost my way. How could I know this lucid stream would turn, leading me into mountains? I abandon my boat, pick up a light staff and come upon something wonderful, four or five old monks in contemplation, enjoying the shade of pines and cypresses. Before the forest dawns they read Sanskrit. Their nightly meditation quiets the peaks. Here even shepherd boys know the Dao. Woodcutters bring in worldly news. They sleep at night in the woods with incense, on mats clean as jade. Their robes are steeped in valley fragrances; the stone cliffs shine under a mountain moon. I fear I will lose this refuge forever so at daybreak I fix it in my mind. People of Peach Tree Spring goodbye. I'll be back when flowers turn red. [1508.jpg] -- from To Touch the Sky: Poems of Mystical, Spiritual & Metaphysical Light, Translated by Willis Barnstone
~ Wang Wei, Stone Gate Temple in the Blue Field Mountains
24:This scroll, five hundred years old and more, had been inspired by her favorite, the great Wang Wei, master of landscape art, who had painted the scenes from his own home, where he lived for thirty years before he died. Now behind the palace walls on this winter’s day, where she could see only sky and falling snow, Tzu His gazed upon the green landscapes of continuing spring. One landscape melted into another as slowly she unrolled the scroll, so that she might dwell upon every detail of tree and brook and distant hillside. So did she, in imagination, pass beyond the high walls which enclosed her, and she traveled through a delectable country, beside flowing brooks and spreading lakes, and following the ever-flowing river she crossed over wooden bridges and climbed the stony pathways upon a high mountainside and thence looked down a gorge to see a torrent fed by still higher springs, and breaking into waterfalls as it traveled toward the plains. Down from the mountain again she came, past small villages nestling in pine forests and into the warmer valleys among bamboo groves, and she paused in a poet’s pavilion, and so reached at last the shore where the river lost itself in a bay. There among the reeds a fisherman’s boat rose and fell upon the rising tide. Here the river ended, its horizon the open sea and the misted mountains of infinity. This scroll, Lady Miao had once told her, was the artist’s picture of the human soul, passing through the pleasantest scenes of earth to the last view of the unknown future, far beyond. ~ Pearl S Buck
25:was also renowned in Japan. Burton Watson says of ~ Bai Juyi
: "he worked to
develop a style that was simple and easy to understand, and posterity has
requited his efforts by making him one of the most well-loved and widely read of
all Chinese poets, both in his native land and in the other countries of the East
that participate in the appreciation of Chinese culture. He also, thanks to the
translations and biographical studies by Arthur Waley, one of the most accessible
to English readers". Today the fame of ~ Bai Juyi
Pinyin: Bó Juyì or Bái Juyì
Wade-Giles: Po Chü-i or Pai Chü-i
Zì : Lètian
Hào : Xiangshan Jushì
Shì Wén (hence referred
to as Bái Wéngong )
~ Bai Juyi
often referred to himself in life as Letian, the older English transcription
version being Lo-t'ien, meaning something like "happy-go-lucky". Later in life, he
referred to himself as the Hermit of Xiangshan.
~ Bai Juyi
lived during the Middle Tang period. This was a period of rebuilding and
recovery for the Tang Empire, following the An Shi Rebellion, and following the
poetically flourishing era famous for Li Bo (701-762), Wang Wei (701-761), and
Du Fu (712-770). ~ Bai Juyi
lived through the reign of eight or nine emperors,
being born in the Dali regnal era (766-779) of Emperor Daizong of Tang. He had
a long and successful career both as a government official and a poet, although
these two facets of his career seemed to have come in conflict with each other at
certain points. ~ Bai Juyi
was also a devoted Chan Buddist.
Birth and childhood
~ Bai Juyi
was born in 772, in Taiyuan, Shanxi, which was then a few miles from
location of the modern city. Although he was in Zhengyang, Henan for most of
his childhood. His family was poor but scholarly, his father being an Assistant
Department Magistrate of the second-class. At the age of ten he was sent away
from his family to avoid a war that broke out in the north of China, and went to
live with relatives in the area known as Jiangnan, more specifically Xuzhou.
~ Bai Juyi
's official career was initially successful. He passed the jinshi
examinations in 800. ~ Bai Juyi
may have taken up residence in the western capital
city of Chang'an, in 801. Not long after this, ~ Bai Juyi
and formed a long
friendship with a scholar Yuan Zhen. ~ Bai Juyi
's father died in 804, and the young
Bai spent the traditional period of retirement mourning the death of his parent,
which he did along the Wei River, near to the capital. 806 was the first full year
of the reign of Emperor Xianzong of Tang. Also, 806 was the ~ Bai Juyi
appointed to a minor post as a government official, at Zhouzhi, which was not far
from the Chang'an (and also in Shaanxi province). He was made a member
(scholar) of the Hanlin Academy, in 807, and Reminder of the Left from 807 until
815, except in 811 when his mother died. He spent the traditional three year
mourning period again along the Wei River, and returned to court in the winter of
814, where he held the title of Assistant Secretary to the Prince's Tutor. It was
not a high ranking position, but nevertheless one which he was soon to lose.
While serving as a minor palace official, 814, Bei Juyi managed to get himself in
official trouble. He made a few enemies at court and with certain individuals in
other positions. It was partly his written works which lead him into trouble. He
wrote two long memorials, translated by Arthur Waley as "On Stopping the War",
regarding what he considered to be an overly lengthy campaign against a minor
group of Tatars; and he wrote a series of poems, in which he satirized the actions
of greedy officials and highlighting the sufferings of the common folk.
At this time, one of the post-An Lushan warlords (jiedushi), Wu Yuanji in Henan,
had seized control of Zhangyi Circuit (centered in Zhumadian), an act for which
he sought reconciliation with the imperial government, trying to get an imperial
pardon as a necessary prerequisite. Despite the intercession of influential friends,
Wu was denied, thus officially putting him in the position of rebellion. Still
seeking a pardon, Wu turned to assassination, blaming the Prime Minister
(another Wu, Wu Yuanheng) and other officials: the imperial court generally
began by dawn, requiring the ministers to rise early in order to attend in a timely
manner; and, on July 13, 815, before dawn, the Tang Prime Minister Wu
Yuanheng was set to go to the palace for a meeting with Emperor Xianzong. As
he left his house, arrows were fired at his retinue. His servants all fled, and the
assassins seized Wu Yuanheng and his horse, and then decapitated him, taking
his head with them. The assassins also attacked another official who favored the
campaign against the rebellious warlords, Pei Du, but was unable to kill him. The
people at the capital were shocked and there was turmoil, with officials refusing
to leave their personal residences until after dawn.
In this context, ~ Bai Juyi
overstepped his minor position by memorializing the
emperor. As Assistant Secretary to the Prince's Tutor, Bai's memorial was a
breach of protocol — he should have waited for those of censorial authority to
take the lead before offering his own criticism. This was not the only charge
which his opponents used against him. His mother had died, apparently caused
by falling into a well while looking at some flowers, and two poems written by Bai
Juyi — the titles of which Waley translates as "In Praise of Flowers" and "The
New Well" — were used against him as a sign of lack of Filial Piety, one of the
Confucian ideals. The result was exile: ~ Bai Juyi
was demoted to the rank of SubPrefect and banished from the court and the capital city to Jiujiang, then known
as Xun Yang on the southern shores of the Yangtze River in northwest Jiangxi
Province, China. After three years he was sent as Governor of a remote place in
Sichuan. At the time, the main travel route there was up the Yangzi River. This
trip allowed ~ Bai Juyi
a few days to visit his friend Yuan Zhen, who was also in
exile and with whom he explored the rock caves located at Yichang. ~ Bai Juyi
delighted by the flowers and trees for which his new location was noted. In 819,
he was recalled back to the capital, ending his exile.
Return to the capital and a new emperor
In 819, ~ Bai Juyi
was recalled to the capital and given the position of second-class
Assistant Secretary. In 821, China got a new emperor, Muzong. After succeeding
to the throne, Muzong spent his time feasting and heavily drinking, and
neglecting his duties as emperor. Meanwhile, the temporarily subdued regional
military governors (jiedushi) began to challenge the central Tang government,
leading to the new de facto independence of three circuits north of the Yellow
River, which had been previously subdued by Emperor Xianzong. Furthermore,
Muzong's administration was characterized by massive corruption. Again, ~ Bai Juyi
26:financially and employed him as his unofficial secretary.
In March 768, he began his journey again and got as far as Hunan province,
where he died in Tanzhou (now Changsha) in November or December 770, in his
58th year. He was survived by his wife and two sons, who remained in the area
for some years at least. His last known descendant is a grandson who requested
a grave inscription for the poet from Yuan Zhen in 813.
Hung summarises his life by concluding that, "He appeared to be a filial son, an
affectionate father, a generous brother, a faithful husband, a loyal friend, a
dutiful official, and a patriotic subject."
Criticism of ~ Du Fu
's works has focused on his strong sense of history, his moral
engagement, and his technical excellence.
Since the Song dynasty, critics have called ~ Du Fu
the "poet historian". The most
directly historical of his poems are those commenting on military tactics or the
successes and failures of the government, or the poems of advice which he wrote
to the emperor. Indirectly, he wrote about the effect of the times in which he
lived on himself, and on the ordinary people of China. As Watson notes, this is
information "of a kind seldom found in the officially compiled histories of the
~ Du Fu
's political comments are based on emotion rather than calculation: his
prescriptions have been paraphrased as, "Let us all be less selfish, let us all do
what we are supposed to do". Since his views were impossible to disagree with,
his forcefully expressed truisms enabled his installation as the central figure of
Chinese poetic history.
A second favourite epithet of Chinese critics is that of "poet sage" (?? shi shèng),
a counterpart to the philosophical sage, Confucius. One of the earliest surviving
works, The Song of the Wagons (from around 750), gives voice to the sufferings
of a conscript soldier in the imperial army, even before the beginning of the
rebellion; this poem brings out the tension between the need of acceptance and
fulfilment of one's duties, and a clear-sighted consciousness of the suffering
which this can involve. These themes are continuously articulated in the poems
on the lives of both soldiers and civilians which ~ Du Fu
produced throughout his
Although ~ Du Fu
's frequent references to his own difficulties can give the
impression of an all-consuming solipsism, Hawkes argues that his "famous
compassion in fact includes himself, viewed quite objectively and almost as an
afterthought". He therefore "lends grandeur" to the wider picture by comparing it
to "his own slightly comical triviality".
~ Du Fu
's compassion, for himself and for others, was part of his general
broadening of the scope of poetry: he devoted many works to topics which had
previously been considered unsuitable for poetic treatment. Zhang Jie wrote that
for ~ Du Fu
, "everything in this world is poetry", and he wrote extensively on
subjects such as domestic life, calligraphy, paintings, animals, and other poems.
~ Du Fu
's work is notable above all for its range. Chinese critics traditionally used
the term txt (jídàchéng- "complete symphony"), a reference to Mencius'
description of Confucius. Yuan Zhen was the first to note the breadth of ~ Du Fu
achievement, writing in 813 that his predecessor, "united in his work traits which
previous men had displayed only singly". He mastered all the forms of Chinese
poetry: Chou says that in every form he "either made outstanding advances or
contributed outstanding examples". Furthermore, his poems use a wide range of
registers, from the direct and colloquial to the allusive and self-consciously
literary. This variety is manifested even within individual works: Owen identifies
the, "rapid stylistic and thematic shifts" in poems which enable the poet to
represent different facets of a situation, while Chou uses the term "juxtaposition"
as the major analytical tool in her work. ~ Du Fu
is noted for having written more
on poetics and painting than any other writer of his time. He wrote eighteen
poems on painting alone, more than any other Tang poet. ~ Du Fu
negative commentary on the prized horse paintings of Han Gan ignited a
controversy that has persisted to the present day.
The tenor of his work changed as he developed his style and adapted to his
surroundings ("chameleon-like" according to Watson): his earliest works are in a
relatively derivative, courtly style, but he came into his own in the years of the
rebellion. Owen comments on the "grim simplicity" of the Qinzhou poems, which
mirrors the desert landscape; the works from his Chengdu period are "light, often
finely observed"; while the poems from the late Kuizhou period have a "density
and power of vision".
According to the Encyclopædia Britannica, ~ Du Fu
's writings are considered by
many literary critics to be among the greatest of all time, and it states "his
dense, compressed language makes use of all the connotative overtones of a
phrase and of all the intonational potentials of the individual word, qualities that
no translation can ever reveal."
In his lifetime and immediately following his death, ~ Du Fu
was not greatly
appreciated. In part this can be attributed to his stylistic and formal innovations,
some of which are still "considered extremely daring and bizarre by Chinese
critics." There are few contemporary references to him—only eleven poems from
six writers—and these describe him in terms of affection, but not as a paragon of
poetic or moral ideals. ~ Du Fu
is also poorly represented in contemporary
anthologies of poetry.
However, as Hung notes, he "is the only Chinese poet whose influence grew with
time", and his works began to increase in popularity in the ninth century. Early
positive comments came from Bai Juyi, who praised the moral sentiments of
some of ~ Du Fu
's works (although he found these in only a small fraction of the
poems), and from Han Yu, who wrote a piece defending ~ Du Fu
and Li Bai on
aesthetic grounds from attacks made against them. Both these writers showed
the influence of ~ Du Fu
in their own poetic work. By the beginning of the 10th
century, Wei Zhuang constructed the first replica of his thatched cottage in
It was in the 11th century, during the Northern Song era that ~ Du Fu
reached its peak. In this period a comprehensive re-evaluation of earlier poets
took place, in which Wang Wei, Li Bai and ~ Du Fu
came to be regarded as
representing respectively the Buddhist, Daoist and Confucian strands of Chinese
culture. At the same time, the development of Neo-Confucianism ensured that
~ Du Fu
, as its poetic exemplar, occupied the paramount position. Su Shi famously
expressed this reasoning when he wrote that ~ Du Fu
because... through all his vicissitudes, he never for the space of a meal forgot his
sovereign". His influence was helped by his ability to reconcile apparent
opposites: political conservatives were attracted by his loyalty to the established
order, while political radicals embraced his concern for the poor. Literary
conservatives could look to his technical mastery, while literary radicals were
inspired by his innovations. Since the establishment of the People's Republic of
China, ~ Du Fu
's loyalty to the state and concern for the poor have been
interpreted as embryonic nationalism and socialism, and he has been praised for
his use of simple, "people's language".
~ Du Fu
's popularity grew to such an extent that it is as hard to measure his
influence as that of Shakespeare in England: it was hard for any Chinese poet not
to be influenced by him. While there was never another ~ Du Fu
, individual poets
followed in the traditions of specific aspects of his work: Bai Juyi's concern for the
poor, Lu You's patriotism, and Mei Yaochen's reflections on the quotidian are a
few examples. More broadly, ~ Du Fu
's work in transforming the lushi from mere
word play into "a vehicle for serious poetic utterance" set the stage for every
subsequent writer in the genre.
~ Du Fu
has also been influential beyond China, although in common with the other
High Tang poets, his reception into the Japanese literary culture was relatively
late. It was not until the 17th century that he was accorded the same level of
fame in Japan as in China, but he then had a profound influence on poets such as
Matsuo Basho. In the 20th century, he was the favourite poet of Kenneth
Rexroth, who has described him as "the greatest non-epic, non-dramatic poet
who has survived in any language", and commented that, "he has made me a
better man, as a moral agent and as a perceiving organism".
A Homeless Man's Departure
After the Rebellion of 755, all was silent wasteland,
gardens and cottages turned to grass and thorns.
My village had over a hundred households,
but the chaotic world scattered them east and west.
No information about the survivors;
the dead are dust and mud.
I, a humble soldier, was defeated in battle.
I ran back home to look for old roads
and walked a long time through the empty lanes.
The sun was thin, the air tragic and dismal.
I met only foxes and raccoons,
their hair on end as they snarled in rage.
Who remains in my neighborhood?
One or two old widows.
A returning bird loves its old branches,
how could I give up this poor nest?
In spring I carry my hoe all alone,
yet still water the land at sunset.
The county governor's clerk heard I'd returned
and summoned me to practice the war-drum.
This military service won't take me from my state.
I look around and have no one to worry about.
It's just me alone and the journey is short,
but I will end up lost if I travel too far.
Since my village has been washed away,
near or far makes no difference.
I will forever feel pain for my long-sick mother.
I abandoned her in this valley five years ago.
She gave birth to me, yet I could not help her.
We cry sour sobs till our lives end.
In my life I have no family to say farewell to,
so how can I be called a human being?
~ Du Fu