In the above poem we can see that Tu Fu, while lamenting the fate that had befallen the various impoverished scholars of the empire, could still see the humorous side or poverty. In this we see most clearly Tu Fu’s indebtedness to the humorous treatment of the tragic phases of life so common in folk songs—a type of literature which he had never despised.

In many of the titles to his poems he indicated clearly his intention of writing humorous verse. Even when he was writing long historical poems of a serious nature like “Pei Chêng,” “Northward Travels,” there are injections of lines and phrases that revealed the poet’s fondness of the humorous and jocular.

This lighthearted side of Tu Fu’s poetic temperament did not preclude his frequent manifestations of seriousness in life and his deep-seated concern with and sorrow for his age. As a poet, however, he did not put on any air of dressed-up solemnity or venture to be purely didactic.

Just as he could laugh heartily, his occasional efforts to swallow his own sorrows were all the more touching. The sadness he felt in the evening of his life is most clearly revealed in the poems in which he reminisced about incidents and feelings of his younger days.

Although he never succeeded in detaching himself completely from the many basic difficulties threatening the reigning dynasty and the T’ang Empire as a whole, he was, after all, living the life of a retired scholar, spending his leisure on a farm.

His daily schedule consisted in planting vegetables and picking mushrooms. While on one hand he lamented that he would fail to sleep at night on account of his inability to stop wars and to rectify the universe, he could in the daytime find much that was poetic in the chores of daily living.

These little discoveries of what was meaningful and pleasant he recorded in his many “little poems.” These poems, recording small episodes of farm life, small reactions and impressions, were patterned into a verse form that was known as the chüeh chü, consisting of four lines composed of seven of five syllables.

This verse form was not subjected to the limitations of tonal sequence or elaborate rhetoric. Externally it had a good deal in common with the quatrains of the yüeh fu type which Li Po had written with the greatest dexterity and which were originally intended to be sung to music.

In spirit it was an entirely different vehicle completely detached from musical accompaniment and, therefore, peculiarly adapted to language of the common people. Tu Fu was able to breathe so much new life into this convenient verse form that many major poets of the following Sung Dynasty continued to cherish this chüeh chü form.
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