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WANG WEI (699-761)

LI BO (701-762)

What Makes Du Fu the "Greatest Tang Poet"?

Du Fu (Tu Fu in Wade-Giles romanization) was a scholar-official who lived at a time of great turbulence in China. Corruption and nepotism at the Tang court prompted a rebellion, led by the general An Lushan, against the capital city of Chang'an (An Lushan Rebellion, 755-762). The Tang empire was fatally shaken and a prolonged era of internal strife brought Tang dynastic rule to an end in 907.

"On the River," by Du Fu

On the river, every day these heavy rains—
bleak, bleak, autumn in Ching-ch'u

High winds strip the leaves from the trees;
through the long night I hug my fur robe.

I recall my official record, keep looking in the mirror,
recall my comings and goings, leaning alone in an upper room.

In these perilous times I long to serve my sovereign—
old and feeble as I am, I can't stop thinking of it!

Paul Rouzer :: Undoubtedly, the greatest of the Tang Dynasty poets, and I think without fearing disagreement, the greatest poet of the Chinese tradition, period, is Du Fu, who lived at the first half of the eighth century AD.

What makes Du Fu so great is a complicated question to answer. Perhaps one of the main reasons is the fact that he took his obligations as a Confucian statesman, a Confucian official, extremely seriously. Probably more seriously than a good many of the poets of his own time.

He related his own life rather intimately to the rise and fall of the Chinese dynasty. And whenever anything occurred in the Chinese polity that had wide consequences for the Chinese people at large, Du Fu himself reacted to these particular events with a great deal of passion and emotion.

Stephen Owen :: Du Fu was from a good Confucian background. His grandfather had been a famous court poet. He was obviously extremely knowledgeable, but there was something a little bit wrong with Du Fu. Some of things didn't quite go right for him. He was never able to make his way in the Tang government.

"I Stand Alone," by Du Fu

A single bird of prey beyond the sky.
a pair of white gulls between riverbanks.

Hovering wind tossed, ready to strike;
the pair, at their ease, roaming to and fro.

And the dew is also full on the grasses,
spiders' filaments still not drawn in.

Instigations in nature approach men's affairs—
I stand alone in thousands of sources of worry.