Thursday, July 23, 2015

Thoughts about Tu Fu, Poems I-V

As I expected, you readers offered brilliant perceptions about the Tu Fu poems. Of course, David's point is important--that "a lot of that is Mr. Rexroth's art"--and there are places where Mr. Rexroth's art seems to be too much Rexroth and not enough Tu Fu. As David says, occasionally in these poems we feel "someone with a light touch suddenly banging the keys."

Nonetheless, Thomas catches at something vital in these pieces:
Building on Carlene’s wonderfully articulated description of the relations between the internal and external, I just would add that what seems so striking to me is, while there definitely is the resonance between the two, we see so little of that internal world (and when we do, it’s empty!). Unlike the Romantic inner and outer natures of Coleridge and Wordsworth, Tu Fu denies us the explicit articulation of the linkage between the two. Any connection between the inner feeling of the I and the dew on the lute strings is completely implicit, not explicit. And the external seems to dominate in the poems—I would say threatens to overwhelm the I, but that language is too forceful, too menacing. IV maybe best enacts this, but even V in the image of the figure walking through fields seems tiny in comparison, perhaps because of the “dust of the dead” that feels more vast.
"The external seems to dominate in the poems--I would say threatens to overwhelm the I." To me, this captures the essence of these poems . . . and explains, in part, why they transcend mere personal anecdote.

DiTa (who is a marvelously skilled poet, by the way) remarks, "I seldom use 'I' in a poem, feeling it is too intimate. This for me is a challenge to be 'up-front' in my poems. I want to speak to the heart. Maybe Tu Fu has the answer." Here DiTa speaks to something that also concerns me as a poet: am I writing a poem that is just about the small world of me, or does my writing use the small world of me as a way to touch on larger tragedies, ambiguities, hopes?

Carlene notes that "poems [often] stay too rooted in one landscape or the other; [Tu Fu's] paralleling of internal and external experiences makes the poem seem both personal and universal." Ruth writes that "the I is both participating and observing." I think this is how Tu Fu (via Rexroth) overcomes that poisonous suck of the "I I I I I!!" voice that DiTa and I both fear.

I asked you to look at how the endings differ from the body of the poems. Often the poems end on an image of departure, or an opening landscape, or natural chaos:
Poem I: "I think of my little boat, / And long to be on my way." 
Poem II: "The way back forgotten, hidden / Away, I become like you, / An empty boat, floating, adrift." 
Poem III: "Life whirls past like drunken wildfire."
These are not endings in the sense of closing a neat door on the poem but endings that open the poem into a world beyond poetry. And yet the body of these poems are filled with particular, individual details about the I and his surroundings: "green wine bottles," "the sound of chopping wood," "I am sleepless in the glow and shadow of the lamplight." What draws is me is the way in which Tu Fu/Rexroth balances these particularities against the powerful forces of that wordless beyond.

As I writer, I think what I want to begin to learn from these poems is (1) the bravery of saying, "I am here," and then patiently and economically creating that "here"; and (2) the bravery of saying, "Around me is a world that does not know me or need to know me."

 Please do leave your reactions to my thoughts in the comments, but let's also move on to the next ten poems: VI through XVI.

1 comment:

David (n of 49) said...

'(1) the bravery of saying, "I am here," and then patiently and economically creating that "here"; and (2) the bravery of saying, "Around me is a world that does not know me or need to know me."' What a great rendering.