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Lions Roar : September 2008
I AM A MADMAN My thatched cottage stands just west of Thousand Mile Bridge this Hundred Flower Stream would please a hermit fisherman bamboo sways in the wind graceful as any court beauty rain makes the lotus flowers even more red and fragrant but I no longer hear from friends who live on princely salaries my children are always hungry with pale and famished faces does a madman grow more happy before he dies in the gutter? I laugh at myself—a madman growing older, growing madder. THE CHINESE CONSIDER DU FU (formerly spelled Tu Fu) their greatest poet. He widened the scope of poetry tremendously, and he wrote about everything, large and small, that came his way through the course of his tumultuous and harried life. This poem demonstrates his considerable prowess. In the first half we mainly find pastoral contentment. Aware of his surround- ings, attuned to the spring season, the poet has nothing but praise for his circumstances; he is glad to be alive in them. Then, perhaps provoked by his own admiration of bamboos and lotus flowers, he remembers his life in the glamorous capital and the contrast between his aborted career and the wealth and ease of his more successful friends, close to the court and enjoying royal patronage. His poverty, a constant source of worry and distress, overwhelms him yet again. Concern about feeding his family has been the story of his life for many years now. How, given that, can he experience happiness? The answer must be a sort of paradox: if a madman, dying in utter poverty, is capable of ecstasy at the end, in the gutter, then Du Fu is too. He laughs at his own mixed emotions and faces his death with an odd sense of joy. His poverty, age, illness, and ap- proaching death ought to depress him; his joy must seem to most people a kind of madness. The poem performs what we might describe as two emotional somersaults. But the most remarkable thing about it is the appar- ent effortlessness with which it does that, using the simplest details and an economy of presentation that few poets can rival. ♦ About a Poem: David Young on Du Fu’s “I Am a Madman” PHOTOBYLIZAMATTHEWS 112 SHAMBHALA SUN SEPTEMBER 2008 SEPT 100-112.indd 112 SEPT 100-112.indd 112 7/3/08 1:35:56 PM 7/3/08 1:35:56 PM