The Poem Setting out at Dawn from Baidicheng was authored by Li Bai. Li Bai has been lauded as the author of Chinese best-loved poetry, a champion drinker, and also a Daoist wanderer (Monro par. 2). From the poem, one gets the perception that the author is not only a seasoned traveler, but also that this particular journey from Baidicheng was considered fruitful and fulfilling. The poem, a provenance poem of a good read, can be described as an occasional verse as it seems to have been written in reference to a particular event, which is the early morning journey from Baidicheng. The decision to select this poem as part of the presentations in this paper is attributed to its significant implications on the journey of life. Considering life as a journey implies that one has the opportunity to enjoy every bit of surprise that comes with it.
Unlike the first poem, the second choice can be described as a panegyric poem, as it presents the praise of a particular object. The poem ‘Autumn Stirrings’, is the first of Du Fu’s eight poems, and it depicts the beauty of the three gorges (Owen 434). Du Fu is one of the renowned Chinese poets with several pieces of eccentric poetry to his name. Each piece, just like Autumn Stirrings, stirs exceptional feelings in the reader, which can be construed to have deeper implications or to have been intended to communicate messages that are distinct from the conventional meanings that a reader may draw from the poem. As such, it is also possible to classify the poem as an allegory. For the sake of this comparison, the poem will be considered in its panegyric genre.
Summary of the Main Themes
Li Bai’s poem describes a journey in which the persona engages within a single day. The journey, which begins when the persona leaves Baidicheng for Jiangling at dawn, is supposed to be a complete journey from which the author returns within the same day. In the course of his travel, the persona also listens to the happenings along his way such as gibbons that cry without rest, and makes observations around him such as the multi-colored clouds and the myriad mountains. This poem promotes the theme of mindfulness and can be considered as a call to inner peace. In most cases, humans will focus on the objectives of their journey or be too engrossed in their personal thoughts to think about the things that happen in their surroundings, and which would probably give them joy and inner peace. By focusing on the descriptions of the environmental occurrences, Li Bai draws the reader to the intentional pursuit of peace through harmony with nature.
Similarly, Du Fu’s poem describes the beauty and scariness of nature through comparison. The poem presents a contradictory perspective to nature, by focusing on the elements that are perceived as dark or bleary, and which most people would associate with loneliness and grief. For instance, the scars and harms of the mountains and gorges, the bleariness of the atmosphere and the lonely boat that is no longer fastened to its homeland, are all phenomena that give the perception of sorrow and loneliness. It is therefore deductible that the poet presents the theme of nature’s unpredictability or the multi-faceted characteristic of nature. By comparing and contrasting this poem to that by Li Bai, it is clear that man’s perception about nature and the sounds and sights therein, formulate his perception about it and also affect his mood and attitude towards it. For instance, the same mountains described using scars and harms in Du Fu’s poem are described as myriad fold by Li Bai, without a focus on the persona’s perception of them. This means that in Li Bai’s poem, the reader is free to decide whether to appreciate the beauty of the mountains or not.
The structures of the two different poems are somewhat different. In the first poem by Li Bai, a more open structure has been used to communicate the author’s intention. This is to say that Li Bai presents this poem somewhat like an open verse or a descriptive paragraph, in which the reader can flow continuously, understanding each line. On the other hand, the poem by Du Fu has a disjointed structure, in which lines break off mid sentence and continue in the next line. It also begins with somber statements on each stanza, which are qualified by the next lines in the same stanza. For instance, in stanza 2, the reader cannot attach any dark meanings or fear to the statement ‘between river’s margins the wave’ (Owen 434). However, the subsequent statement raises the reader can create a meaning out of the first one. It can thus be concluded that the poetic structure is based on a rise and fall of emotions, which stirs up continuous review of the meanings associated with the poem.
Use of Patterned Literary Language
Both poems have used patterned literary language to significantly impose meaning on their readers. In Li Bai’s poem for instance, the author uses description extensively to convey meaning. Assertions such as crossing one thousand li to Jiangling are helpful for the reader who intends to predict the distance covered by the persona. Similarly, the other statements each provide a description of a phenomenon that is natural and to which the reader can connect easily. On the other hand, Du Fu uses a combination of description, parallelism and natural imagery to convey meaning through Autumn Stirrings. For instance, perfect descriptions of the boat in stanza 3 help the reader to create an impression on the distance between the boat’s natural position and its position at the time of observation; reference to mountains alongside gorges demonstrates perfect parallelism while the use of dark clouds and the shadows they cast to convey meanings of abandonment and loneliness depicts natural imagery. Each of these literary styles helps to create more meaning into the poem.
In terms of visuality and aurality, the two poems have different levels of appeal. In particular, Li Bai’s poem has significant visual and aural appeal. The descriptions provided by the author mostly focus on the sounds and sights that are observed during the persona’s journey. However, they are not as pictographic as the descriptions provided by Du Fu in his poem. Moreover, the descriptive value of Li Bai’s work point to softer visual implications, unlike those given by Du Fu, which are more imposing. It can thus be concluded that the level of visual appeal in Li Bai’s poem is more ephemeral while that in Du Fu’s poem is mind etching. On the other hand, the poem by Li Bai provides stronger aural appeal as a result of its mentions of sounds, particularly those of gibbons, contrary to Du Fu’s poem which has no mention of any audio phenomena.
Additionally, there is also a consideration of the use of space in the poems. In the first poem by Li Bai, the author paints the reader as an on-looker to a body in space. This relationship is even more drawn as it involves the reader more like a detached body, distinct from both the space and the persona, and to which all information about the space is passed through narration. This relationship thus is contentious, unlike that developed by Du Fu through integration of feelings, emotions and physical being. Through references to observations, the use of imagery and parallelism, Du Fu draws the reader into oneness with the described spaces, resulting in more harmonious relationship between the writer and the reader as well as between the reader and the space presented.
Different poets use different methods to appeal to the readers. The manner in which the writers integrate literary language into meaning and space relationships impacts the relationship between the poem and the reader. For instance, in the case of the two poems reviewed, there have been distinctions in the use of language, literary styles and structures in poetry. The first poem by Li Bai focuses on description as its core literary language while Du Fu uses a combination of description, imagery and parallelism. Similarly, the structure of Li Bai’s poem is more open, while that used by Du Fu is disjointed. The use of space and time in the two poems also differs significantly, with the result that the relationship between the reader and the writer/ poem is different from one poem to the other.
Monro, Alexander. ‘China’s Best Accompanied in Verse.’ The Guardian, March 3, 2008. www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2008/mar/03/chinabestinverse. Accessed 25 April 2019.
Owen, Stephen. Anthology of Chinese Literature: Beginnings to 1911. Norton, 1996.