Poetry‎ > ‎THE POET LI PO‎ > ‎



THE CHAIRMAN (Mr. GEORGE JAMIESON) : Mr. Li T'ai-po was, I am afraid, a bit of a Bohemian (laughter), and his Bacchanalian experiences have been repeated in later days even with the great poets. I am sure you will all join with me in expressing a hearty vote of thanks to Mr. Waley for his address and the very felicitous language in which he has translated a number of these ancient poems. I trust his paper will be printed and preserved with the rest of our publications, because these poems, as far as I can judge but hearing them read does not impress one so much as reading them at leisure are well worthy of careful perusal. It is curious to note how unchangeable and immobile China is. At the time these poems were written we in Great Britain were living under King Alfred and trying to keep out the Danes and other things. (Laughter.) I can tell you that the Szechwan Road as described in the poem that Mr. Waley has read is just the same now as it was when the poem was written. And the social conditions of the people are the same now as they were at that time. I have often thought that Chinese poets are very limited in their range. They seem to be deficient in the quality of imagination. China has never produced a great epic poem. Of course I speak subject to correction, but I believe I am right in saying that China has never produced a poet comparable with Homer, Dante, Virgil, or Milton. There has been no one born with the power of telling a story like Homer. The poets of China appear to me to be emotional and descriptive, but incapable of any high flights of imagination. I think that Macaulay says that great flights of imagination are peculiar to the early periods of a nation's civilization, and that story-telling reaches its highest form as an art before printing has been much in vogue. 

Mr. M. F. A. ERASER : I have listened to this lecture with the greatest interest. The English was particularly pleasing, and I am glad that the lecturer has broken away from the old custom of seeking rhymes, and followed the French custom in the translation of these poems. A man may be an excellent writer and translator, and not be a poet, but to translate foreign poetry into English considerable literary gifts are required. 

Mr. PAUL KING : All of you who have been lately in China must be struck with the extraordinary difference between the China described in these poems and the China which has come into being since the revolution. Ideas of a very practical nature have now taken possession of the people. And then, what about modern Chinese poets ? Do any of us know of any? In my intercourse with the Chinese I cannot recall a modem Chinese who was a poet. It is possible that I may have met one, and that he concealed his poetic gifts. (Laughter.) Our lecturer tells us, however, that he knows certain Chinese poets. It would be interesting to know if they are publishing their poems, and how they would compare with the work of the older poets in our possession. 

Mr. L. Y. CHEN : I should like to join in congratulating Mr. Waley on his very learned paper and beautiful translations. It is quite true that there are no epic poems in Chinese literature. This form of poetry has not been introduced in China, but I differ with your statement, Sir, that Chinese poetry lacks imagination. (Applause.) I could give you many instances to the contrary, though not from memory. The last speaker's remark that the present China is different from what China is in Chinese poetry may be true, but I may well retort that the England as represented in Shakespeare is very different from the England of to-day. (Laughter and cheers.) And Li T'ai-po lived many hundred years ago, but Shakespeare lived at more recent period. Human nature has two states, the spiritual and the practical. You can combine the two. If you have the practical it does not necessarily follow that you are lacking in the spiritual. As for present-day Chinese poets, there are several famous ones in China. 

Since the lecturer has raised the question whether Li T'ai-po or Tu Fu is the greater poet, I would say that the Chinese of the present day consider Tu Fu to be the greater. It strikes me as curious that European people who know something about Chinese poetry should prefer Li T'ai-po. Perhaps very few people have heard of Tu Fu. Certainly there is no translation of the most important of Tu Fu's poems in the English language. In China every child who has studied poetry knows something about Tu Fu's poems. Tu Fu is placed first by the Chinese because he is the greatest national poet. He expresses national feelings in a way that can be appreciated by everybody. Li T'ai-po's poems deal chiefly with wine and women, love and sensual things,"Tu Fu's poems are full of men and women, elderly people and children, their joy, their anguish, the hardship of the soldier, and things of that sort. In a word, Tu Fu's poetry expresses what we ordinary men and women wish to express and cannot. 

Mr. G. WILLOUGHBY-MEADE : One or two observations occur to me in connection with the translation of this poetry into English. The two greatest reading publics are the Anglo-American and the Chinese. The Anglo-American people have produced an enormous amount of poetry which they do not often quote, and the Chinese have produced an enormous amount of poetry which, according to experts, they quote a great deal. Now, at the present moment that peculiar British shyness for quoting poetry seems to have largely disappeared in consequence of the writings of soldier poets. These poems have been written under condi- tions of great danger, difficulty, and discomfort, and it seems to me that it would be a very good thing if poetry illustrating the thought of these men could be placed before the Anglo-American public. 

The CHAIRMAN proposed a hearty vote of thanks to the Lecturer, which was carried by acclamation.