Du Fu was a Chinese poet and politician of the Tang dynasty. Along with Li Bai, he is frequently called the greatest of the Chinese poets.
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Famous Du Fu Poems
View From A Height
Sharp wind, towering sky, apes howling mournfully;
untouched island, white sand, birds flying in circles.
Infinite forest, bleakly shedding leaf after leaf;
inexhaustible river, rolling on wave after wave.
Through a thousand miles of melancholy autumn, I travel;
carrying a hundred years of sickness, I climb to this terrace.
Hardship and bitter regret have frosted my temples–
and what torments me most? Giving up wine!
Thinking Of My Brothers On A Moonlit Night
Drums on the watch-tower have emptied the roads –
At the frontier it’s autumn; a wild-goose cries.
This is a night in which dew becomes frost;
The moon is bright like it used to be at home.
I have brothers, but they’re scattered;
My home’s broken up; are they dead or alive?
If letters are sent, they never arrive;
This war that separates us seems unending.
The Pitiful Young Prince
Hooded crows fly at night
over the walls of Chang’an,
uttering harsh cries
above Welcoming Autumn Gate,
then head for people’s houses,
pecking at the lofty roofs,
roofs beneath which high officials
scurry to escape barbarians.
The golden whip is broken in two,
the nine horses are run to death,*
but it is still not possible
for all of royal blood to flee together…
In plain sight below his waist
a precious ornament of blue coral,
the pitiful prince stands weeping
at the corner of the road.
When I ask, he refuses to tell
either name or surname;
he only speaks of his desperation,
and begs to become my slave.
For a hundred days now
he has lain hidden in brambles;
there is no whole skin left
on his entire body.
But the sons and grandsons of Gao-zu
all have the same noses-
the dragon-seed, naturally,
differs from that of ordinary men.
Jackals and wolves in the city,
dragons lurking in the wilds,
the prince had better take care
of that thousand-tael body!*
I don’t dare talk long here
in plain view by the crossroads,
but for the sake of my prince
I will stay for a moment.
Last night the east wind
blew in the stench of blood,
and camels from the east
filled the former Capital.*
The Shuo-fang veterans
were known as skilled warriors,
they always seemed so fierce,
but now how foolish they look!
It is rumored that the Son of Heaven
has already abdicated,
but also that the Khan
is lending his support,
that the men of Hua gashed their faces
and begged to wipe out this disgrace.
Say nothing! Someone else
may be hiding and listening.
Alas, Prince, you must be careful,
stay on guard,
and may the spirits of the Five Tombs*
watch over you always.
Poem For Wei Ba
Often a man’s life is such
that he seldom sees his friends,
like the constellations Shen and Shang
which never share the same sky.
If not this evening, then what evening
should we share this lamp light?
How long can our youth and vigor last?
The hair at our temples is already gray.
We inquire about old acquaintances
to find that half are ghosts–
shocked cries betray
the torment of our hearts.
How could I have known
that it would be twenty years
before I again entered
your honored home.
When we parted last
you were yet unmarried;
now your sons and daughters
line up in a smiling row
to greet their father’s friend.
They ask whence I have come
but before I can answer all questions
you chase them off
to bring wine and cups.
In the night rain, chives are cut
for the freshly steamed rice
mixed with yellow millet.
Saying how difficult it has been
for us to meet at last,
you pour ten cups in a row!
But even after ten cups
I’m not drunk, being so moved
by your lasting friendship.
Tomorrow we will be separated
by the peaks of mountains,
each of our worldly affairs
lost to the other’s sight.
Red evening clouds are mountainous in the west
and the sun’s feet disappear under the horizon.
Sparrows noisy over the brushwood door.
I am a traveler home after a thousand miles.
My wife and children are startled to see me alive.
The surprise ends but they can’t stop wiping tears.
In the chaotic world I was tossed about;
I’ve found my way home, alive by accident.
Neighbors crowd over our garden walls.
They are moved, sighing and even weeping.
In deep night we hold candles,
facing each other as if in dream.
I live my late years as if I’ve stolen my life.
Very few joys after I returned home.
My little son never lets go of my knees,
afraid I will go away again.
I remember I liked to chase cool shade,
so I walk under trees by the pond.
Whistling, the north wind is strong,
I finger past events and a hundred worries fry in my mind.
However, the crops are harvested,
wine spurts from the mouth of the flask
and I have enough to fill my cups
and console me in my dusk.
A group of chickens make chaos
and fight each other as guests arrive.
I drive them up bushes and trees,
before I hear knocking on my brushwood gate:
four or five village elders greet me
and ask about my long absence.
Each of them brings a gift in hand.
Their wines pour out, some clear, some muddy.
They apologize for their wine, so watery,
as there was no one to grow millet.
Weapons and horses can’t rest yet;
the young men are gone on the expedition east.
I offer a song for my old village folks,
feeling deep gratitude.
After singing, I sigh and throw back my head
and tears meander down our faces.
Upon The Military Recovery Of Henan And Hebei
News comes to Jianwai1 that Jibei has been recovered
and tears wet my garments when I hear the news.
I turn to look at my wife, all sorrows gone,
and roll up my writings carelessly in crazy joy.
I sing loudly in the sun and can’t wait to indulge in wine,
With green Spring as companion it will be a pleasure to return home,
rafting through the Ba and Wu Gorges
then via Xiangyang coming to Luoyang at last!
The Eight Formations
Your achievements overshadowed
any in the Three Kingdoms;
most famous of all was your design
for the Eight Formations.
Against the river’s surge,
they stand solid, immovable,
a monument to your lasting regret
at failing to swallow up Wu.
On Seeing A Pupil Of Kung-Sun Dance The Chien-Ch`i
On the nineteenth day of the tenth month of the second year of Ta-li (15 November 767), in the residence of Yuan Ch
ih, Lieutenant-Governor of Kuei-chou, I saw Li Shih-er-niang of Lin-ying dance the chien-ch`i.
Impressed by the brilliance and thrust of her style, I asked her whom she had studied under. “I am a pupil of Kung-sun", was the reply.
I remember in the fifth year of K
ai-yuan (717) when I was still a little lad seeing Kung-sun dance the chien-chi
and the hun-t
o at Yen-cheng. For purity of technique and self-confident attack she was unrivaled in her day.
royal command performers'' and theinsiders" of the Spring Garden and Pear Garden schools in the palace down to the “official call" dancers outside, there was no one during the early years of His Sagely Pacific and Divinely Martial Majesty who understood this dance as she did. Where now is that lovely figure in its gorgeous costume? Now even I am an old, white-haired man; and this pupil of hers is well past her prime.
Having found out about the pupil’s antecedents, I now realized that what I had been watching was a faithful
reproduction of the great dancer’s interpretation. The train of reflections set off by this discovery so moved me
that I felt inspired to compose a ballad on the chien-ch`i.
Some years ago, Chang Hsu, the great master of the
`grass writing'' style of calligraphy, having several times
seeen Kung-sun dance the West River chien-chi at Yeh-hsein, afterwards discovered, to his immense
gratification, that his calligraphy had greatly improved. This gives one some idea of the sort of person Kung-sun
In time past there was a lovely woman called Kung-sun, whose chien-ch`i astonished the whole world. Audiences numerous as the hills watched awestruck as she danced, and, to their reeling senses, the world seemed to go on rising and falling, long after she had finished dancing. Her flashing swoop was like the nine suns falling, transfixed by the Mighty Archer’s arrows; her
soaring flight like the lords of the sky driving their dragon teams aloft; her advance like the thunder gathering up its dreadful rage; her stoppings like seas and rivers locked in the cold glint of ice.
The crimson lips, the pearl-encrusted sleeves are now at rest. But in her latter years there had been a pupil to whom she transmitted the fragrance of her art. And now in the city of the White Emperor the handsome woman from Lin-ying performs this dance with superb spirit. Her answers to my questions have revealed that there was good reason to admire, my ensuing
reflections fill me with painful emotion.
Of the eight thousand women who served our late Emperor, Kung-sun was from the first the leading performer of the chien-ch`i. Fifty years have now gone by like a flick of the hand – fifty years in which rebellions and disorders darkened the royal house. The pupils of the Pear Garden have vanished like the mist. And now here is this dancer, with the cold winter sun
shining on her fading features.
South of the Hill of Golden Grain the boughs of the trees already interlace. On the rocky walls of Ch
u-tang the dead grasses blow forlornly. At the glittering feast the shrill flutes have once more concluded. When pleasure is at its height, sorrow follows.
The moon rises in the east; and I depart, an old man who does not know where he is going, but whose feet, calloused from much walking in the wild mountains, make him wearier and wearier of the pace.
Passing The Night At Headquarters
Clear autumn at headquarters,
wu-tung trees cold beside the well;
I spend the night alone in the river city,
using up all of the candles.
Sad bugle notes sound through the long night
as I talk to myself;
glorious moon hanging in mid-sky
but who looks?
The endless dust-storm of troubles
cuts off news and letters;
the frontier passes are perilous,
travel nearly impossible.
I have already suffered ten years,
ten years of turmoil and hardship;
now I am forced to accept a perch
on this one peaceful branch.
Old Couple’s Departure
The four outskirts are not yet safe and quiet,
I am old, but have no peace.
All my sons and grandsons died in battle;
it’s no use to keep my body alone in one piece.
Throwing away my walking stick, I walk out the door.
The other soldiers are saddened, pitying me.
I’m lucky to still have all my teeth
but I regret the marrow has dried in my bones.
Wearing a soldier’s helmet and armor,
I salute my officers before departure.
My old wife is lying in the road weeping.
The year is late and her clothes thin.
Though I know at heart this is our death-farewell,
her shivering in cold still hurts me.
I know I will never come back,
yet hear her out when she says, “Eat more!"
The city wall around Earth Gate is very strong,
and the Xingyuan ferry is hard for the enemy to cross,
so the situation is different from the siege of Ye City,
and I will have some time before I die.
In life we part and we rejoin;
we have no choice, young or old.
I recall my young and strong days,
and walk about with long sighs.
War has spread through ten thousand countries
till beacon fires blaze from all the peaks.
So many corpses that grass and trees stink like fish,
rivers and plains dyed red with blood.
Which land is the happy land?
How can I linger here!
I abandon my thatched house
and feel my liver and lungs collapse.
Spring Night In The Imperial Chancellery
Evening falls on palace walls shaded by flowering trees, with cry of birds
flying past on their way to roost. The stars quiver as they look down on the
myriad doors of the palace, and the moon’s light increases as she moves into
the ninefold sky. Unable to sleep, I seem to hear the sound of the bronze-clad
doors opening for the audience, or imagine the sound of bridle-bells bourne
upon the wind. Having a sealed memorial to submit at tomorrow’s levee, I make
frequent inquiries about the progress of the night.
Born from rotting grasses damp
Still the daylight thou must fear,
On my scroll thy tiny lamp
Scarcely lets the words appear.
But on stranger’s dress from far
Shinest thou a tender star.
Or when wind-borne on the gauze
Of my window making pause,
Small thy phosphorescent beam
As a fairy’s eye doth gleam.
From the rain you safely hide
In the woodland undescried.
But once November’s frosts are chill
Thou leaflike fadest from the hill.
translated by W. J. B. Fletcher
What! Is the mocking bird come?
The Spring, he comes to say,
The Spring is here today.
All sounds, all words he knows.
His feathers preen how he will,
He is the same bird still.
Where flowers most thickly screen,
Difficult to be seen,
His varying notes deride
The topmost boughs between.
If out of time he chide.
Lo! slander at your side!
Dreaming Of Li Po
After the separation of death one can eventually swallow back
one’s grief, but
the separation of the living is an endless, unappeasable anxiety.
pestilent Chiang-nan no news arrives of the poor exile. That my
should come into my dream shows how constantly he is in my
thoughts. I fear
that this is not the soul of a living man: the journey is so
When your soul left, the maple woods were green: on its return
the passes were
black with night. Lying now enmeshed in the net of the law,
how did you find
wings with which to fly here? The light of the sinking moon illumines
beam and rafter of my chamber, and I half expect it to light up your face.
water is deep, the waves are wide: don’t let the water-dragons get you.
All day long the floating clouds drift by, and still the wanderer
arrived! For three nights running I have repeatedly dreamed of you.
affectionate concern on your part shows your feelings for me!
Each time you
said goodbye you seemed so uneasy.
It isn't easy to come',
you would say
bitterly;The waters are so rough. I am afriad the boat will capsize!’.
out of my door you scratched your white head as if your whole life’s ambition
had been frustrated.
The Capital is full of new officials, yet a man like this is so wretched!
Who is going to tell me that the `net is wide’ when this ageing man
remains in difficulties? Imperishable renown is cold comfort when you can only
enjoy it in the tomb!
To The Recluse, Wei Pa
Often in this life of ours we resemble, in our failure to meet, the Shen and
Shang constellations, one of which rises as the other one sets. What lucky
chance is it, then, that brings us together this evening under the light of
this same lamp? Youth and vigor last but a little time. — Each of us now has
greying temples. Half of the friends we ask each other about are dead, and our
shocked cries sear the heart. Who could have guessed that it would be twenty
years before I sat once more beneath your roof? Last time we parted you were
still unmarried, but now here suddenly is a row of boys and girls who
smilingly pay their respects to their father’s old friend. They ask me where I
have come from; but before I have finished dealing with their questions, the
children are hurried off to fetch us wine. Spring chives are cut in the rainy
dark, and there is freshly steamed rice mixed with yellow millet. `Come, we
don’t meet often!’ you hospitably urge, pouring out ten cupfuls in rapid
succession. That I am still not drunk after ten cups of wine is due to the
strength of the emotion which your unchanging friendship inspires. Tomorrow
the peak will lie between us, and each will be lost to the other, swallowed up
in the world’s affairs.
Thoughts Of Li Po From The World’s End
Here at the world’s end the cold winds are beginning to blow. What messages
have you for me, my master? When will the poor wandering goose arrive? The
rivers and lakes are swollen with autumn’s waters. Art detests a too successful
life; and the hungry goblins await you with welcoming jaws. You had better have
a word with the ghost of that other wronged poet. Drop some verses into the
Mi-lo as an offering to him!
Twenty-Two Rhymes To Left-Prime-Minister Wei
Boys in fancy clothes never starve,
but Confucian scholars often find their lives in ruin.
Please listen to my explanation, Sir,
I, your humble student, ask permission to state my case.
When I was a younger Du Fu
I was honored as a national distinguished guest
and wore out ten thousand books in reading,
My brush was always inspired by gods,
my rhymed essays rivaled those of Yang Xiong,1
my poems were kin with those of Cao Zijian.2
Li Yong looked for a chance to meet me,
and even Wang Han3 wanted to be my neighbor.
I thought I was an outstanding person,
positioned at a key ferryboat route
and would assist an emperor like Yao or Shun,4
and make folk customs honest and simple again.
In the end this ambition withered.
I became a bard instead of a hermit,
and spent thirty years traveling on a donkey,
ate traveler’s rations in the luxury of the capital,
knocked on the door of the rich in the morning,
walked in the dust of fat horses in the evening,
ate leftover dishes and half-finished wine.
Wherever I went, I found misery hiding beneath.
When the emperor summoned me,
I was excited at this chance to stretch myself .
I saw blue sky but my wings just hung.
I was set back, had no scales to swim far.
I feel unworthy of your kindness,
and I know your sincerity:
in the presence of one hundred officials,
you read my best poems.
I am as happy as Gong Gong.5
Since it’s hard to imitate Confucius disciple Yuan Xian6
How can I feel unhappy about anything,
though my feet still drag as usual?
Now I plan to move east to the sea,
and leave the capital behind me in the west.
But I still feel attached to the Zhongnan Mountain,
and turn my head to look at the Wei River.
I think about my gratitude for one meal7
as I take departure from you, Prime Minister.
This white gull is lost in the waves.
Who can tame him in his journey of ten thousand miles?
To Bi Siyao
Once stately figures in the art of rhyme,
Now sadly down at heels, our careers in ruin,
Regarded by our servants with disdain,
We are grown old and gray before our time.
Yet in your joyful, carefree company,
The most consoling thought occurs to me:
Though we are doomed to poverty and strife,
Our poems shall have a long and prosperous life.