Biography of Tu Fu
Most of what is known of Du Fu’s life comes from his own poems. His paternal grandfather was Du Shenyan, a noted politician and poet during the reign of Empress Wu. He was born in 712 in Gong county, near Luoyang, Henan province. In later life he considered himself to belong to the capital city of Chang'an, ancestral hometown of the Du family.
Du Fu's mother died shortly after he was born, and he was partially raised by his aunt. He had an elder brother, who died young. He also had three half brothers and one half sister, to whom he frequently refers in his poems, although he never mentions his stepmother.
As the son of a minor scholar-official, his youth was spent on the standard education of a future civil servant: study and memorisation of the Confucian classics of philosophy, history and poetry. He later claimed to have produced creditable poems by his early teens, but these have been lost.
In the early 730s he travelled in the Jiangsu/Zhejiang area; his earliest surviving poem, describing a poetry contest, is thought to date from the end of this period, around 735. In that year he travelled to Chang'an to take the civil service exam but was unsuccessful, to his surprise and that of centuries of later critics. Hung concludes that he probably failed because his prose style at the time was too dense and obscure, while Chou suggests that his failure to cultivate connections in the capital may have been to blame. After this failure he went back to travelling, this time around Shandong and Hebei.
His father died around 740. Du Fu would have been allowed to enter the civil service because of his father's rank, but he is thought to have given up the privilege in favour of one of his half brothers. He spent the next four years living in the Luoyang area, fulfilling his duties in domestic affairs.
In the autumn of 744 he met Li Bai (Li Po) for the first time, and the two poets formed a somewhat one-sided friendship: Du Fu was by some years the younger, while Li Bai was already a poetic star. We have twelve poems to or about Li Bai from the younger poet, but only one in the other direction. They met again only once, in 745.
In 746 he moved to the capital in an attempt to resurrect his official career. He participated in a second exam the following year, but all the candidates were failed by the prime minister (apparently in order to prevent the emergence of possible rivals). Thereafter he never again attempted the examinations, instead petitioning the emperor directly in 751, 754 and probably again in 755. He married around 752, and by 757 the couple had had five children—three sons and two daughters—but one of the sons died in infancy in 755. From 754 he began to have lung problems (probably asthma), the first of a series of ailments which dogged him for the rest of his life. It was in that year that Du Fu was forced to move his family due to the turmoil of a famine brought about by massive floods in the region.
In 755 he finally received an appointment as Registrar of the Right Commandant's office of the Crown Prince's Palace. Although this was a minor post, in normal times it would have been at least the start of an official career. Even before he had begun work, however, the position was swept away by events.
Luoyang, the region of his birthplace, was recovered by government forces in the winter of 762, and in the spring of 765 Du Fu and his family sailed down the Yangtze, apparently with the intention of making their way back there. They travelled slowly, held up by his ill-health (by this time he was suffering from poor eyesight, deafness and general old age in addition to his previous ailments). They stayed in Kuizhou (now Baidicheng, Chongqing) at the entrance to the Three Gorges for almost two years from late spring 766. This period was Du Fu's last great poetic flowering, and here he wrote 400 poems in his dense, late style. In autumn 766 Bo Maolin became governor of the region: he supported Du Fu financially and employed him as his unofficial secretary.
In March 768 he began his journey again and got as far as Hunan province, where he died in Tanzhou (now Changsha) in November or December 770, in his 58th year. He was survived by his wife and two sons, who remained in the area for some years at least. His last known descendant is a grandson who requested a grave inscription for the poet from Yuan Zhen in 813.
Hung summarises his life by concluding that, "He appeared to be a filial son, an affectionate father, a generous brother, a faithful husband, a loyal friend, a dutiful official, and a patriotic subject."
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Tu Fu Poems
Above the tower -- a lone, twice-sized moon. On the cold river passing night-filled homes, It scatters restless gold across the waves. On mats, it shines richer than silken gauze.
Alone, Looking for Blossoms Along the Ri...
The sorrow of riverside blossoms inexplicable, And nowhere to complain -- I've gone half crazy. I look up our southern neighbor. But my friend in wine Gone ten days drinking. I find only an empty bed.
Oxen and sheep were brought back down Long ago, and bramble gates closed. Over Mountains and rivers, far from my old garden, A windswept moon rises into clear night.
Tonight at Fu-chou, this moon she watches Alone in our room. And my little, far-off Children, too young to understand what keeps me Away, or even remember Chang'an. By now,
As bamboo chill drifts into the bedroom, Moonlight fills every corner of our Garden. Heavy dew beads and trickles. Stars suddenly there, sparse, next aren't.
A slight rain comes, bathed in dawn light. I hear it among treetop leaves before mist Arrives. Soon it sprinkles the soil and, Windblown, follows clouds away. Deepened A slight rain comes, bathed in dawn light. I hear it among treetop leaves before mist Arrives. Soon it sprinkles the soil and, Windblown, follows clouds away. Deepened Colors grace thatch homes for a moment. Flocks and herds of things wild glisten Faintly. Then the scent of musk opens across Half a mountain -- and lingers on past noon. A slight rain comes, bathed in dawn light. I hear it among treetop leaves before mist Arrives. Soon it sprinkles the soil and, Windblown, follows clouds away. Deepened
Dreaming of Li Po
After the separation of death one can eventually swallow back one's grief, but the separation of the living is an endless, unappeasable anxiety. From pestilent Chiang-nan no news arrives of the poor exile. That my old friend should come into my dream shows how constantly he is in my thoughts. I fear
Roads not yet glistening, rain slight, Broken clouds darken after thinning away. Where they drift, purple cliffs blacken. And beyond -- white birds blaze in flight.
By the Lake
The old fellow from Shao-ling weeps with stifled sobs as he walks furtively by the bends of the Sepentine on a day in spring. In the waterside palaces the thousands of doors are locked. For whom have the willows and rushed put on their fresh greenery?
Ballad of the Army Carts
The carts squeak and trundle, the horses whinny, the conscripts go by, each with a bow and arrows at his waist. Their fathers, mothers, wives, and children run along beside them to see them off. The Hsien-yang Bridge cannot be seen for dust. They pluck at the men's clothes, stamp their feet, or stand in the way
Gazing at the Sacred Peak
For all this, what is the mountain god like? An unending green of lands north and south: From ethereal beauty Creation distills
To the Recluse, Wei Pa
Often in this life of ours we resemble, in our failure to meet, the Shen and Shang constellations, one of which rises as the other one sets. What lucky chance is it, then, that brings us together this evening under the light of this same lamp? Youth and vigor last but a little time. --- Each of us now has
On Seeing a Pupil of Kung-sun Dance the ...
On the nineteenth day of the tenth month of the second year of Ta-li (15 November 767), in the residence of Yuan Ch`ih, Lieutenant-Governor of K`uei-chou, I saw Li Shih-er-niang of Lin-ying dance the chien-ch`i. Impressed by the brilliance and thrust of her style, I asked her whom she had studied under. ``I am a pupil of Kung-sun'', was the reply.
On a Prospect of T'ai-shan
How is one to describe this king of mountains? Throught the whole of Ch'i and Lu one never loses sight of its greenness. In it the Creator has concentrated all that is numinous and beautiful. Its northern and southern slopes divide the dawn from the dark. The layered clouds begin at the climber's heaving chest,
Oxen and sheep were brought back down
Long ago, and bramble gates closed. Over
Mountains and rivers, far from my old garden,
A windswept moon rises into clear night.
Springs trickle down dark cliffs, and autumn
Dew fills ridgeline grasses. My hair seems
Whiter in lamplight. The flame flickers
Good fortune over and over -- and for what?