Translator's notes

A Scene in Spring

By Du Fu

Du Fu (712-770, also known as Tu Fu) wrote during what is usually regarded as the golden age of Chinese poetry, the Tang Dynasty, more specifically the reign of the emperor Ming Huang (‘Brilliant Emperor’). While ostensibly about the hardships caused by the expansionary territorial policies of an earlier dynasty, the ‘Ballad of the Military Waggons’ (also in MPT Series 3, No.7, 'Love and War') is probably meant to be a criticism of the military ambitions of Ming Huang himself. A few years after its composition, Du Fu himself experienced war first-hand. In 755 a former court favourite called An Lushan started a rebellion, which led to the emperor fleeing the capital, Chang'an (present-day Xi'an). In the ensuing confusion the city was the scene of looting and, when later occupied by rebel troops, great slaughter. An Lushan was later assassinated in a conspiracy in which his own son was implicated. The Tang was eventually restored in the person of Ming Huang's third son and continued for another 150 years, but it never recovered its former power and prosperity. Du Fu seems not to have witnessed the fall the Chang'an, but he saw its aftermath, possibly as a prisoner of war of the rebel army. Like most Chinese poets, Du Fu was also a civil servant (though of modest rank) and so could have been considered potentially useful to a fledgling new government. ‘Scene in Spring’ evidently describes a personal reaction to this disaster, with a touch of self-deprecatory humour at the end.

Despite his being often referred to as the greatest Chinese poet, a relatively small proportion of Du Fu's work is accessible in English. This may be because the qualities of compression and potential ambiguity of the Chinese literary language and the formal complexity of its verse forms are exploited to the full in much of his verse, and these present a formidable barrier to effective translation. Since a literal rendering of the words would often be meaningless in English, the end result of any attempt to be true to the spirit of the original will always involve a degree of re-interpretation of the poem in question.

Contributor and student discounts

If you are a student, or if you contribute to MPT you are eligible for a great discount deal when you subscribe…» Subscribe now

Back to top
Supported by Arts Council England

Copyright © Modern Poetry in Translation and contributors
Website design ashbydesign
Developed by Code Frontiers
Powered by Storemill