The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

In 757, Du Fu angered Emperor Su-tsung and was demoted to a minor position away from the capital. Widespread unrest and famine soon forced him to give up the post and travel in search of a livelihood. In 760, he managed to settle down in a “straw cottage” on the western suburbs of Ch’eng-tu (in Sichuan). The Straw Cottage became the focal point of interest in his poetry thereafter. Unfortunately, in 762, the uprising of Ch’eng-tu’s Vice Prefect Hsü Chih-tao caused him to flee again. In 764, after turning down an offer of a minor position in the capital, Du Fu returned to the Straw Cottage. A year had scarcely passed when Yen Wu, a military friend, recommended him to serve under the Council of Military Advisors. He accepted and took office in the city of Ch’eng-tu. Soon, however, he gave up the post and returned to the Straw Cottage, where he stayed until 766. “Broken Boat” was probably written in 764 upon his first return. As the poem begins, the poet states that all his life he has had “a heart for rivers and lakes” and that he was early equipped with a tiny boat, which was not meant merely for cruising along the stream and traveling in the vicinity of his modest abode. The implication here is that the poet has had lofty aspirations but has always been frustrated. For example, he had to flee in haste from the horrendous revolt only recently. Even at a distance, however, he has longed for a return to the sanctuary that he cherishes as home....

(The entire section is 496 words.)