23 October 2014

Poetry Thursday - The Red Cockatoo by Po Chu-i

Poster is available via ltmuseumshop
Sent as a present from Annam—
A red cockatoo.
Colored like the peach-tree blossom,
Speaking with the speech of men.

And they did to it what is always done
To the learned and eloquent.
They took a cage with stout bars
And shut it up inside. 

Po Chu-i (772-846), translated by Arthur Waley

(one of a set of "Chinese Poems on the Underground"; from New Poems on the Underground, 2006)

Also known as Bai Juyi, this poet lived during the Tang dynasty, an amazing time in Chinese cultural history - see a selection of its visual art here...horses, dancing ladies, and more! The Tang dynasty was a fertile time for poetry, too - 300 translated poems can be read here. The poets seemed to have a good time of it; drinking with friends in the moonlight was something they often wrote about.

Po Chu-i worked to develop a style that was easy to understand - the story goes that he would read his poems to an old peasant woman and would change any line that she didn't understand. A government official, he lived through the reign of eight or nine emperors. In 814 his writings got him into trouble when he overstepped his position as a minor palace official. He was demoted and sent into exile, which lasted till 819. Nor was this the only time he wrote contentious "memorials in remonstrance" with the current emperor.

A Buddhist, in 832 he repaired an unused part of the Xiangshan Monastery at Longmen, and on moving to this location, he began to refer to himself as the "Hermit of Xianshang". The area is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site - it is famous for its tens of thousands of statues of Buddha and his disciples carved out of the rock.

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