A Spring View
- Poetry of Du Fu


- Last updated: 2024-04-26 10:35:24

A Spring View by Du Fu





English Translation

Though a country be sundered, hills and rivers endure;

And spring comes green again to trees and grasses

Where petals have been shed like tears

And lonely birds have sung their grief.

...After the war-fires of three months,

One message from home is worth a ton of gold.

...I stroke my white hair. It has grown too thin

To hold the hairpins any more.


This poem dates from 757, when Du Fu was held captive by the rebels in Chang'an. The hairpin was used to hold in place the caps worn by Chinese officials (Owen p. 420).

Du Fu’s poetry, particularly “Gazing at Spring,” explores the heart-wrenching aspects of war on families and the natural world. In the first line, he juxtaposes the broken state of the country, 国破 (country, broken), with the flourishing grass and wood in the city. By doing so, he emphasizes the fragile and wilted state of his country. His thoughts are so turmoiled by the state of his country that even when he sees a beautiful flower or hears the chirping of birds, he imagines that the flower is shedding tears and the birds are wailing. His personification of nature evokes a distressing image of a country so devastated and torn apart that even nature mourns for it. Why is this country so broken? In the next line, Du Fu makes it clear that a war is raging throughout the country through his statement that the beacon fire (烽火), which is lighted on towers and the tops of hills to alert the soldiers of the approaching enemy, has been lighted for three months. As a cause of this war, families are torn apart; now, even a single letter from his family seems to be equal in worth to ten thousand pieces of gold. After highlighting the war’s impact on his country and nature, Du Fu depicts how the war has affected him. Because of his constant worry for his country, he has tugged and scratched at his white hair so often that he can no longer hold a hairpin in it. Thus, Du Fu uses evocative imagery to illustrate the devastating impacts of war on his nation and personal life.

Why Chinese poems is so special?
The most distinctive features of Chinese poetry are: concision- many poems are only four lines, and few are much longer than eight; ambiguity- number, tense and parts of speech are often undetermined, creating particularly rich interpretative possibilities; and structure- most poems follow quite strict formal patterns which have beauty in themselves as well as highlighting meaningful contrasts.
How to read a Chinese poem?
Like an English poem, but more so. Everything is there for a reason, so try to find that reason. Think about all the possible connotations, and be aware of the different possibilities of number and tense. Look for contrasts: within lines, between the lines of each couplet and between successive couplets. Above all, don't worry about what the poet meant- find your meaning.

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