(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

In “The Journey North,” Du Fu has received formal permission from the emperor to make a visit to his wife and children, but the poet wonders how important he should consider his family at a time when “the whole universe is suffering fearsome wounds.” In this state of confusion and anxiety, he begins his phantasmagoric journey through a devastated and depopulated countryside. There is temporary respite when he comes to the mountains—“Here retired pursuits could be enjoyed.” Yet the world calls him back, and he must cross an old battlefield at night, the moonlight illuminating white bones.

The poet’s homecoming is a widely praised passage. He finds his wife and children in patched clothes; his spoiled son is now barefoot and pale, and Du Fu himself falls sick and takes to his bed. At this point, he realizes that he has some cosmetics and silk in his bag, and the children take immediate pleasure in the makeup, playing at being grown-ups. The poet can temporarily forget the trials of life in the pleasure of being with his children.

After these three dozen lines of domestic realism, the poem returns to its initial mode, and Du Fu turns to speculating on the outcome of the rebellion. He says that he believes that the “demonic atmosphere will soon break,” that the empire is, after all, built on firm foundations.

The poem is striking for its mixture of the domestic and the high political. The “shifting style,” with its abrupt changes of mood and topic, is characteristic of Du Fu and sets him apart from his contemporaries. He is quite happy to let the personal stand beside the public and to unify the two in the space of a poem, although his sense of himself as a potentially public figure, and sometimes as a mildly absurd one, constantly draws him back to earth.

The Journey North Bibliography

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Chou, Eva Shan. Reconsidering Tu Fu: Literary Greatness and Cultural Context. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

Cooper, Arthur, comp. Li Po and Tu Fu: Poems Selected and Translated with an Introduction and Notes. Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Penguin, 1973.

Davis, A. R. Tu Fu. New York: Twayne, 1971.

Dissanayake, Wimal. “Self as Image in the Nature Poetry of Kalidasa and Du Fu.” In Self as Image in Asian Theory and Practice, edited by Roger T. Ames, with Thomas P. Kasulis and Wimal Dissanayake. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1998.

Feng Yuean-chuen. A Short History of Classical Chinese Literature. Translated by Yang Hsien-Yi and Gladys Yang. Hong Kong: Joint Publishing, 1983.

Lin, Shuen-fu, and Stephen Owen, eds. The Vitality of the Lyric Voice: Shih Poetry from the Late Han to the T’ang. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1986.

Owen, Stephen. “Tu Fu.” In The Great Age of Chinese Poetry: The High T’ang. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1981.

Watson, Burton. Chinese Lyricism: Shih Poetry from the Second to the Twelfth Century, with Translations. New York: Columbia University Press, 1971.

Watson, Burton. The Columbia Book of Chinese Poetry: From Early Times to the Thirteenth Century. New York: Columbia University Press, 1984.

Watson, Burton, ed. The Selected Poems of Du Fu. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002.

Yu, Pauline, et al., eds. Ways with Words: Writing About Reading Texts from Early China. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000.