Facing the Snow Analysis

Du Fu

The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Two of Du Fu’s poems bear the title “Facing the Snow.” One was written in late 756; the other, two years before his death in 770. The later poem essentially deals with the arrival of the northern snow, the inclement weather it brings, and the fact that although the poet is penniless, his reputation allows him to buy on credit as much wine as he pleases. The earlier poem, however, to be discussed below, has been translated more frequently and is better known. Full of anxiety and tension, it is also a much more engaging poem.

“Facing the Snow” was written in late 756 in the capital, Ch’ang-an. Rebels of the An-Lu Rebellion had been occupying the capital for several months, and Du Fu had been detained there, unable to take office or return home. Although the new Emperor Su-tsung mounted an attack against the rebels, his ineffective commanders lost thousands of men in several engagements in the early winter of 756.

The first line of the poem, “Battle-wailing, numerous are the new ghosts,” refers to this military disaster. The poet’s response to the situation was simply to grieve about it in his poetry: “Sorrow-singing, solitary is one old man” (line 2). As can be seen, the poem begins with a couplet that highlights the revolt rather than the snow. This suggests what the major concern of the poem is. The snow itself is mentioned in the next couplet: “Chaotic clouds descending upon the dimming dusk,/ Impetuous snow ruffling...

(The entire section is 495 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Facing The Snow” is written in the “recent style”, which came to full flower in the T’ang dynasty. Poems written in the recent style (so named to differentiate it from the “ancient style”) follow regular tonal patterns, and their couplets adhere to the rule of semantic and syntactic parallelism. The two types of recent-style poems are the lü-shih, or “regulated verse,” and the chüeh-chü, or “truncated verse.” The lü-shih has eight lines, the middle four of which are usually couplets, whereas the chüeh-chü has four lines and almost appears to be half of a lü-shih. All recent-style poems, whether “regulated” or “truncated,” have either five or seven characters per line.

“Facing the Snow” is a regulated-verse poem with five characters per line. Although most regulated poems have two couplets in the middle, “Facing the Snow” has three, which occur in succession beginning from line 1. It is unusual to begin a poem with a couplet. By doing so in “Facing the Snow,” Du Fu immediately directs the reader’s attention to the devastation of the current war and the effect it has on the poet. This couplet seems to be setting a pattern of macrocosmic-microcosmic correspondence for the next two, because the two situations described here (the outside world and the personal predicament) are dealt with in the second (the snowstorm) and the third couplets (a person running out of wine in winter), respectively.

The second couplet is characterized by the...

(The entire section is 634 words.)