春望 (杜甫)

Title: Spring Outlook
Author: Du Fu

Poetic Formlǜshī 律诗

1. ( + ) + ( + + )
    (country + destroyed) + (mountain + river + exist)
    gloss: The country is in ruins, but the mountains
     and rivers remain

2. ( + ) + ( + + )
    (city + springtime) + (grass + trees + deep)
    gloss: Spring has arrived in the city, so the grass
    and trees are abundant (from lack of trimming)

3. ( + ) + ( + ( + ))
    (to feel + time) + (flower + (splash + tears))
     gloss: One feels time passing, the flowers 
     shed tears

4. ( + ) + ( + ( + ))
    (to hate + leaving) + (birds + (startle + heart))
    gloss: Hating to leave, birds startle the heart

5. ( + ) + + ( + )
    (signal + fire) + in succession + (three + month)
    gloss: Fires of war have been burning for three

6. ( + ) + (+ ( + ))
    (home + letters) + (to offset + (10000 + gold))
    gloss: Letters from home are worth ten thousand
    pieces of gold

7. ( + ) + + ( + )
    (white + head) + scratch + (more + short)
    gloss: I scratch my greying head, losing some

8. ( + ) + ( + + )
    (complete + desire) + (not + capable + hairpin)
    gloss: [The hair] tries, but cannot, hold a hairpin


Spring Outlook
translation by Jessica Alexander ©

The land is destroyed - the mountains and rivers remain;
Springtime in the city - the grasses and trees bunch deep.
Time flows by: flowers weep; farewells are hateful: birds
The wartime fires burn three months straight;
Letters from home are worth incalculable gold.
I scratch my greying head, its wisps nigh powerless to
                                                          seize a simple hairpin.


Written in 757, in the middle of the An Lushan Rebellion, the poem is a reflection of Du Fu’s love for his country and the sorrow he feels at seeing it torn apart.  It is also an expression of his feelings of homesickness and longing for his family, who are living far from him at the time (Du Fu was part of Emperor Suzong’s court during the rebellion).  At the time, the capital, Chang-an had been occupied by the Rebel army.

The first 4 lines draw a picture of the city and country as it stands, shattered, in the middle of a glorious springtime.  The first two characters, “the country is broken,” are contrasted against the permanence of Mother Nature (the mountains and rivers (1)) and the beauty of the springtime city (2).  There is a significant amount of nature imagery in these first two lines (mountains, rivers, grass, trees).  Du Fu immediately connects the nature before his eyes with traditional paintings (the flowers and birds of lines 3 and 4), but in this case the flowers and birds do not entertain us: they break our hearts.  It is a scene of very mixed emotions (nature and springtime vs. tears and heartbreak).

Lines 5 and 6 move away from the romanticized and poetic to the reality: the fires of the war are burning and postal service is sporadic.  Daily life and the future are both very uncertain.  The poet misses his family, with whom he has little contact.

Lines 7 and 8 pull us even closer to the poet himself.  Time drags on and he is bored and worried; he scratches his head, thinks how spare his hair is, realizes that he is growing old.  The seemingly imminent death of his nation leads him to the recognition of his own mortality.

It is as though, in the first half of the poem, Du Fu raises his head to look out at the springtime vista and, by extension, the whole nation.  As the poem continues, he progressively lowers his head in contemplation and grief.

Oblique rhymes: lines 2 & 4, lines 3 & 5.  Full rhyme: lines 7 & 8.


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