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.)