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Appreciation of Tang Poetry (4)——Bai Juyi

(2009-11-21 00:00:00)




分类: 课堂教学

Appreciation of Tang Poetry (4)——Bai Juyi

Appreciation <wbr>of <wbr>Tang <wbr>Poetry <wbr>(4)——Bai <wbr>Juyi

BaiJuyi was an outstanding poet in ancient China, who lived during 772 and 846 in the middle years of the Tang Dynasty. He has left behind nearly 3000 poems, the most of all Tang Dynasty poets. His works are collected in Anthology of Poems by Bai Juyi.

In Bai Juyi’s opinion, essays and poems should have realistic values, as is evidenced by the large number of widely popular and realistic works he produced all his life, which tell of his emotional sympathy for his time and his people’s sufferings.

Bai Juyi’s poems fall into several categories, allegorical poem, leisure poem, sentimental poem, etc. His allegorical poems are masterpieces, which are represented by long narrative poems like Song of Eternal Sorrow, Song of the Lute Player, New Yuefu Poetry, and Qinzhong’s Chanting, and so on. These poems reflect a panoramic view of the social life in the Mid-Tang Dynasty, focusing on the darkness of reality and people’s sufferings. His leisure poem Bai asking Liu, the Man Heating Rice Wine (Wen Liu Shijiu) describes his reflections on life when he was alone and at leisure time.

Bai’s poems were in wide circulation at the time, among the court and the common folks. His fame even spread as far as Korea and Japan. His poems have exerted tremendous influence on later literature. Dramatists in the following dynasties also based their creations on Bai’s poems. For example, both Bai Bu and Hong Sheng based their respective dramatic creations of Chinese Parasol Rain and Palace of Eternity on Bai’s poem – Song of Eternal Sorrow.

Song of Eternal Sorrow

Appreciation <wbr>of <wbr>Tang <wbr>Poetry <wbr>(4)——Bai <wbr>Juyi

Song of Eternal Sorrow, composed in 806 A.D. by Bai Juyi, is a famous poem vividly depicting the tragic love story between Emperor Xuanzong of the Tang Dynasty and his concubine Yang Yuhuan. The poet created an enthralling and moving story out of the historical figures and legends and represented the reality of life through the artistic images, which has touched numerous readers through the centuries. The outstanding feature of Song of Eternal Sorrow in its artistic presentation is enhanced emotions, which are expressed from the satire on “The beauty-loving emperor, longed year after year, to find a beautiful lady without peer“ to the sentiment and sympathy on “this eternal sorrow goes on and on for ever”.

Song of the Lute

Appreciation <wbr>of <wbr>Tang <wbr>Poetry <wbr>(4)——Bai <wbr>Juyi

The poet expressed his feeling of “Both of us being strangers here, both of us stranded; Does it matter that we’ve just met, if your hearts understand?“ through portraying the adversity of the lady playing the lute as well as his own misfortune encountered in his official career. Its success in art lies also in the play of polished, lively and musical language, which is highly expressive of audible feelings through visual images. The natural scenery of soughing autumn wind and the sentiments upon parting make the work more impressive.


Song of the Lute


In the 10th year of the Yuanhe Period (815 A.D.) I was demoted to deputy-governor and exiled to Jiujiang. In autumn the next year, I was seeing a friend off at the Penpu ferry when I heard through the night someone playing lute in a boat. The tune, crisp and metallic, carried the flavor of the music of the capital. I asked her who she was, and she told me she was a prostitute from the capital, Changan, and had learned to play lute from Master Mu and Master Cao. Now she was old and her beauty had declined and therefore she had married a merchant. So I ordered wine and asked her to play several tunes. We fell silent for a while. Then she told me about the pleasure of her youth, though now she is low and withered, drifting about on rivers and lakes. I had been assigned to posts outside the capital for two years and had enjoyed myself in peace. But touched by her words, that evening I began to realize what I truly felt about being exiled. So I wrote this long poem for her with a total of 612 characters, entitled “Song of the Lute.”


Xiangshan Hermit

Appreciation <wbr>of <wbr>Tang <wbr>Poetry <wbr>(4)——Bai <wbr>Juyi

In the first year of Huichang Period in the Tang Dynasty (841 A.D.), Bai Juyi submitted a memorial to the throne and resigned as the Minister of Justice. Then he lived in Xiangshan Mountain, east to Longmen Mountain in Luoyang City of Henan Province, where he set up the Incense Society with Monk Ruman to read sutras and styled himself Xiangshan Hermit.

The Tomb of Bai Juyi

Appreciation <wbr>of <wbr>Tang <wbr>Poetry <wbr>(4)——Bai <wbr>Juyi

Bai Juyi was died in his bed and buried in the Lute Peak of the Longmen Xiangshan Mountain. The poet Li Shangyin wrote the epitaph for him.

A Story about Bai Juyu and Bird's Nest Monk

Appreciation <wbr>of <wbr>Tang <wbr>Poetry <wbr>(4)——Bai <wbr>Juyi

During the time when Bai Juyi was a Qian Tang Jiang (in Hangzhou) government official, one day he passed by the Green Creek Bridge and saw a crowd gathering before a Buddhist monk and hearing him talk. He thought it strange that people would come to such a remote countryside to listen to a monk. The monk must be very learned, he reckoned. So he rode his horse in the direction of the crowd.


When Bai came face to face with the monk, he said: "Master, the place where you are seated is quite dangerous." The Buddhist monk was the famous Bird’s Nest Monk. Just one glance at Bai, he knew that this man was an arrogant and conceited elitist. So Bird’s Nest said to him, "It is your position that is in danger."


Bai was quite thrown off by this remark and said, "My position is one that is rooted in the country. How can it be in danger?" The monk replied, "Worries and pressures alternate with each other and the conscience is put to an unending test. Neither the body nor the soul can get any rest. Isn’t that dangerous?"


Then Bai asked Bird’s Nest, "Please tell me, Master, what is the essence of Buddhism?" Bird’s Nest decided to let him learn a moral lesson: "Do no evil deed and engage in deeds of kindness." Bai, who knew a little about Buddhism, immediately retorted, "I’ve known this for a long time. Not only I know it, even a three-year old child knows it."


Seeing Bai disparaging Buddhist teachings, Bird’s Nest said to him, "A three-year old child may well know the Way. But an eighty-year old man may no longer have the energy to practice it."


When Bai heard that, he could read between the lines and knew that Bird’s Nest was right. He felt ashamed of himself. Then he said to Bird’s Nest, "You’ve opened my mind. I hope to learn more about Buddhism from you. One day I will come again to be your follower." And he left.


Bird’s Nest knew that Bai had a receptive heart towards Buddhism. But after almost a year, Bai still did not turn up for his lectures. So one day Bird’s Nest paid a visit to Bai’s residence but found that Bai was out on an appointment. He took a pen-brush and wrote down this poem for Bai:


Having penned your ideals as an official for forty years;

While drowning yourself in countless disputes;

One family is well-off while thousands others live in misery;

Half your life brings fame but invokes woes in a hundred after-lives.







When he finished writing the poem, he left Bai’s place.


When Bai came home and saw the poem written on the wall, a strong sentiment suddenly took hold of him. It dawned on him that all these years he had always wished to take up Buddhism, but somehow never got to doing it as he was so bogged down by the daily affairs and the hubbub of social gossip and he was constantly drowned in a pool of unending conflicts. The poem awakened him to his cherished wish and so he decided to quit his job to become a secular follower of Bird’s Nest.


Bai Juyi was one of the most loved poets of the Tang dynasty because of his integrity and sense of justice while he held official posts and because of his compassion and kindness as a human being.


When he was sixteen years old, he wrote a poem as a submission piece in a scholars’ examination, which brought him immediate fame and honor and later led to a successful career in the officialdom. He could never have imagined at the time that the poem could remain famous for over a thousand years after his death.


The poem is called "Farewell on the Ancient Grassland" (赋得古原草送别): ['赋得' refers to the specific format in which the poem must be written in the exam.]


There sprouts a lush growth of grass;

Each year the grass dies and then lives.

Wild fires can never wipe it all out,

As spring breezes will let it thrive once more.

Its scent spreads from afar to fill this ancient path nearby,

The bright green grass stretches right to the old town.

Many farewells are said on this grassland,

By travelers filled with profuse sadness.


离离原上草, 一岁一枯荣

野火烧不尽, 春风吹又生

辽芳侵古道, 晴翠接荒城

又送王孙去, 萋萋满别情


The line "野火烧不尽, 春风吹又生" has become an often-used adage to give encouragement to the oppressed and the downtrodden (like grass), bidding them never to give in when faced with adversity and dire circumstances (like wild fires) in their strife for survival or quest for justice, as their tenacity and perseverance, as well as help from the heavens (like spring breezes), will ultimately bring them victory.


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