Du Fu, Winding River 1

Introspection has not been much in vogue for, well, the last four or five centuries, at least in the West, anyway. The man of thought has become the man of action, the one who changes the world, makes things better. As we head pell-mell into the post-digital, post-handwritten, robot-manufactured world, the question of just where we might be going should give us pause for thought. Certainly the notion that the very act of thinking could itself alter the world, build its complexity and beauty, and of course its wisdom, would meet with a sceptical response these days. Yet RT suspects that something like this understanding lies close to the heart of Eastern religion and art. This is the world we dream of, the world which heals us and in which we have our true place. It is not magic, but a sense of a broader connection to our surroundings.

Du Fu seems to have started his career as a gifted poet, but one who had not met with profound suffering. The collapse of China in the mid-8th century forced him to flee the capital, and to confront in a basic way his life and the unfolding of history around him. Out of his despair he refashioned the possibilities of Chinese poetry, the Chinese people, and RT would argue, the possibilities of humanity as it today struggles with overwhelming change.

Winding River 1

Du Fu

 

a last petal falling marks the close of spring;

trees shed their 10,000 tears in contentious winds.

I’ll drink my wine, then, and examine

blossoms lying trampled in the mud.

 

and yet, in the abandoned riverside pavilion,

kingfishers flash and mate. At the foot

of high tombs in the park, stone unicorns

rest in conjugal silence.

 

all things live in their joy—

exiled from the palace, I wander,

fame forgotten.

 

PhotoStatues in the Imperial Tomb of Tang Emperor Gaozong. Zingaro. WikiCmns. CC BY 2.0.

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