Life in Old China
Tu Fu, the Man who delights in Beauty, lived during the T'ang dynasty of China, in the 8th century A.D. and wrote his life in poetry. It was a full, exciting and perambulatory life, acquainting the wanderer at the one extreme with the most wretched poverty and at the other with the precarious delight of being an Emperor's favourite at court, and it would thus have been interesting even told in the plainest chronicle form. Tu Fu, however, was a poet--how great a poet we can only guess since, as the translator of his autobiography necessarily admits, "the true rhymes and rhythms of Chinese poetry cannot be brought over," with the result that we are introduced to a narrative full of the most exquisite imagery, a tale told in pictures Selected from the _ chaos of human experience by one who, though we do not know him as a musician, appears
unquestionably as an artist of the first quality, .
Tu Fu's subject was life, the broad' sweep of it, and for any realization of what like in the cultured' China Of those days was like the poems must be read continuously, with Mrs. Ayscough's unobtrusive sketch of events as a background. But the poet's delicate perception of values in looking on nature, and his masterly way of subjecting memory to art, are apparent on almost every page. We quote at random :
"White as pure frost, it rises on the wind : The painting of the hoary falcon is superb.
Why should it strike all other birds,
And sprinkle the .level grass with their feathers and their blood ?
Wind weaves, of forest shadows and fallen moonlight, a pattern, white in warp and black in weft ;
Dew purifies our robes ; we stretch the strings.of psalterice.
Dark water flows beside flower-edged footpath, - Spring stars girdle the grass Hut.
Compose writings; candle burns short ; Utter rapier words ; wine-cups pass often.
On crystal platter clear as water's essence, lie rows of white and shining fish.
The ladies dislike to eat to repletion and not to put down their rhinoceros horn chop-sticks frequently.
Flowers droop, an oriole seizes a butterfly; Stream clamours, an otter pursues a fish.
I come again ; I rest in this favoured place Where I can live the life of a man in the wilds."
Yes, Tu Fu was a poet : not impossibly—one can believe after reading this book and considering how much it must have lost through translation—a poet of the very first world. rank, certainly speaking the universal language of art. He was also a delicious character, with a full mellow sense of humour and a philosophy that, apparently, could stand anything.
We congratulate Mrs. Ayscough on a fine achievement on "bringing him Over "as she phrases it, to English readers. A translator who was less of a poet might so easily have made a shocking mess of the job by trying to turn Chinese ideo- graphs into English verse. -