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Li Po and Tu Fu: Poems Selected and Translated with an Introduction and Notes (Penguin Classics) Paperback – July 30, 1973
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Top Customer Reviews
This book has a wonderful introduction which tells of each man, his life and together of their friendship. What we know is that they lived during the Tang Dynasty which is considered the 'golden age' of China in which the arts flourished. According to the introduction we do not have an exact date and place of Li Po's birth but it is estimated to be 701 somewhere near the frontier of the Soviet Union. What I love best about Li Po's poetry is his great imagination and imagery. I believe he was a "Romantic" poet. Li Po's view of the world is not set in reality but how he imagines it to be which makes his poetry beautiful. Some of my favorite poems by Li Po: "Drinking Alone with the Moon" about drinking his wine among the flowers and talking to the moon. The moon encourages him and becomes his friend - very lovely poem. Also "Old Poem" is very fanciful and rich - "Did Chaung Chou dream / he was the butterfly, / Or the butterfly / that it was Chaung Chou?" One that I read again and again is entitled "A song of Adieu to the Queen of the Skies, After a Dream Voyage to Her". This is a mystical poem talking of seafarers who tell of the Fairy Isles. The language is simply gorgeous.
Tu Fu's nature is different than Li Po's but he is equally as talented. According to the introducton, "Tu Fu as a man is contrasted with Li Po in almost every conceivable way." Many consider him to be the greater of the two poets. His poems are autobiographical and historical. Several of his poems are ballads to great people and others deal with loneliness and seclusion but they are beautiful and moving to read.
Although the two poets were very different, they knew and respected one another and it is just a matter of personal taste as to which one you might prefer. Either way this is a beautiful book with a rather long but interesting introduction and it is well worth it for the English translations of these poems.
Here's a poem by Li Po saying farewell to a friend:
Blue mountains lie beyond the north wall;
Round the city's eastern side flows the white water.
Here we part, friend, once forever.
You go ten thousand miles, drifting away
Like an unrooted water-grass.
Oh, the floating clouds and the thoughts of a wanderer!
Oh, the sunset and the longing of an old friend!
We ride away from each other, waving our hands,
While our horses neigh softly, softly . . . . "
I've just received the book from Amazon, and I will give it the benefit of the doubt due to the explanation of Chinese poetic forms other reviewers have praised. But keep in mind that this book has the absolute bare minimum of Chinese characters, and virtually no usable reproductions of the the original poems in Chinese characters (hanzi), or romanization. In other words, it is a book dedicated almost exclusively to translations of the poems, not the poems themselves. While translation is a praiseworthy and thankless task, there are enough students around today trying to struggle with these poems using the Chinese, in addition to a translation, that it is worth it for some reproduction of the originals to be included. Beware, there is a bit less here than meets the eye.
Anyway, as Confucious might have said, had he been born in Rome, "Caveat emptor."