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Du Fu: A Life in Poetry

4.25 of 5 stars 4.25  ·  rating details  ·  232 ratings  ·  20 reviews
Du Fu (712–770) is one of the undisputed geniuses of Chinese poetry—still universally admired and read thirteen centuries after his death. Now David Young, author of Black Lab, and well known as a translator of Chinese poets, gives us a sparkling new translation of Du Fu’s verse, arranged to give us a tour of the life, each “chapter” of poems preceded by an introductory pa ...more
Paperback, 256 pages
Published November 4th 2008 by Knopf (first published 1974)
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Jee Koh
Like all the other Chinese scholars of his time, Du Fu aspired to serve the court in the country's vast bureaucracy. He was passed over again and again, and lived with his family in poverty for much of his life, intermittently relieved by the generosity of friends and patrons. The country's loss is poetry's gain. Du Fu might have written as much and as well if he were a high-ranking official (although that is very doubtful), but he would not have been as innovative in his subject matter.

They say he's the best poet of China. He wrote 1300 years ago. I like him. He's saddening. He's a poet though.
I really appreciate how Du Fu writes about getting drunk. A lot.
Christopher J Sparks
Tu Fu is my kind of poet, on and on about the moon and autumn and trees. For me he is at his best when describing scenes of everyday life in the highly compressed mode of his later works.

I am pleased I knew nothing of his fame before beginning the text, but it is clear Tu Fu's accomplishment is well deserved. His talent strikes through clearly enough to make an impression in translation 13 centuries later. I have read it is difficult to not be influenced by his writing, as with Shakespeare, he i
David Young's chronologically arranged translations of 170 of Du Fu's poems, combined with his introductory notes to each new phase of the poet's life (from 737-770 CE), offer us excellent insights into both the man who wrote the poems and the poems that made the man world famous. Du Fu (or Tu Fu) was truly a man who suffered great losses in his life and who, as a consequence, developed great empathy for all of those who suffer, regardless of social class. This empathy emerges strongly, even in ...more
Robert Sheppard


The Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD) is considered the "Golden Age" of Chinese poetry and a time of cultural ascendency when Chin
Jim Coughenour
Whenever I read the poets of the T'ang, I slip into a kind of reverie, losing myself inside the poem. Nothing exotic about this; I suspect it happens to most readers, but it's still remarkable when you consider that these poems are generally only a few lines long. Maybe it helps to be past a certain age too: these are poems of maturity and their beauty is indissoluble from loss, sorrow, melancholy – the sense of moments passing, bereft to us, evoked by a moon shining in black water or the sound ...more
Tu Fu's poetry is unforgettable and very moving. He lived through so many tragic events, and seeing his life through poetry is an amazing experience. His poetry can be a little hard because of the depressing atmosphere, but the emotional connection he creates in each poem is very powerful. His poetry is so rich with Confucian morality, yet he isn't preachy about it as some religious poetry can be. It is something that is ingrained in his life and, subsequently, in his poetry as well. Tu Fu's poe ...more
May 29, 2014 Jo rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: poetry
One of our sons studies Chinese, so for fun I recently pulled this volume from our shelves and we are reading a poem a night, after grace, just as we begin eating dinner. Who could be a better companion for our evenings than Du Fu (712 - 770)? That river-gazer, that wine connoisseur, that lute-player, friend, philosopher, observer-of-seasons. We marvel at the vitality of his voice, nearly 1300 years later. We're BIG Du Fu fans!
Mark Bruce
Love those old Chinese poets, whose lives were so exotic that they talked about disappointments in career advancement and getting drunk, unlike the more sedate poetry of today. Some achingly lovely moments in this book. I don't speak or read Chinese, so I can't tell you f this is a good translation, but it's damned fine poetry.
A noble effort to present Du Fu as China's most important poet to contemporary English readers. Unfortunately it left me with a sense of: I guess you had to be there. I remained solidly in 21st century.
From translations of Du Fu's poetry, Young creates a "life" of this T'ang Dynasty poet.
Beautiful poems, though I would like to explore different translations.
I guess it's historically important... As far as joy in reading it goes... I was tempted to give it two stars. Still... There were some poems in it I liked. I remember liking Song of the War Carts a lot. I also remember not liking *any* of his work prior to his son's death. He comes off as very petty and self-absorbed. Very into his feelings and his honor, and his blah blah blah (which would be somewhat okay if I felt like he cared about other people too, but I didn't until a certain point in th ...more
Another great poet who received recognition only after his death. To live in poverty and oblivion like Van Gogh seems to be the recipe for men of raw talent. False talent usually arrives with numerous marching bands pointing signs at them, while real talent sits under a quiet roof and creates without applause. Only after their death does their work surface, when egos are deflated because a man is not around to receive praise.
Michael Vagnetti
LIke hearing an oxidized bell awkwardly rung in a shambolic tunnel, this poetry's characteristics of being "ancient" and "translated" were experienced as elemental, but distant. Did I catch all of the words? Or was I hearing some other sound instead of the words? I might have been hearing my own voice when I should have been hearing the poet's. I'm not sure I yet understand how differently this book responds to "what poetry is for." Put another way, I haven't figured out the % mixture of ingredi ...more
One challenge I have realized it that poetry is hard to check out from the library because it is difficult to not savor and think and slowly wind your way through a book of poetry. That being said this book was interesting for the footnotes and the added commentary about the poems as the poetry itself. I enjoyed the poetry somewhat but it didn't resonate too deeply for me a few good lines. I might pick it up at some used book store sometime to slowly wander through this poets life.
I wanted to read some older Chinese poetry. The histories say that Tu Fu and Li Po (Tang Dynasty, ~700 CE) are considered among the great classical poets, so I started there.
What is the old saying? You can translate everything in a poem except the poetry. That is the way I felt reading the poems of Tu Fu. It was interesting but not noteworthy.
Un viejo anhelo, satisfecho en la feria del libro de Madrid... Poesía discreta, emotiva y sencilla.
Por poner una pega, la traducción debería haberse esforzado a mantener un aspecto formal similar al del original chino (si no fonética ni métrica, si debería haber mantenido la rigidez acentual).
Carlos Recamán
"mi espalda al sol; sobre mis libros la luz de los bambúes"
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Du Fu (Chinese: 杜甫; pinyin: Du Fu; Wade-Giles: Tu Fu, 712–770) was a prominent Chinese poet of the Tang Dynasty. Along with Li Bai (Li Po), he is frequently called the greatest of the Chinese poets. His own greatest ambition was to help his country by becoming a successful civil servant, but he proved unable to make the necessary accommodations. His life, like the whole country, was devastated by ...more
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Du Fu: A Life in Poetry Spring in the Ruined City В поход за Великую стену La luna brilla fría sobre los huesos blancos La luna brilla fría sobre los huesos blancos

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“At the edge of heaven, tatters of autumn
Cloud. After ten thousand miles of clear
Lovely morning, the west wind arrives. Here,
Long rains haven't slowed farmers. Frontier

Willows air thin kingfisher colors, and
Red fruit flecks mountain pears. As a flute's
Mongol song drifts from a tower, one
Goose climbs clear through vacant skies.”
More quotes…