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My very first prospectus about Romanticism in Li Po’s Poetry

Well, it’s like I’m bragging about some piece of academic shit I’ve done. And yes, I’m bragging, yes, it’s academic – prospectus for my paper, yes, I’ve done it within 4 hours moaning silently after working at the restaurant.

Such a long time I haven’t written things like this, either in English or Vietnamese. It reminds me of the time in high school when I and my buddies in the team dig in the library and enjoyed all priorities “student in the team” was granted.

So, just wanna show it here. Feel free to comment about my mistakes.

Romanticism in Li Po’s Poetry

Li Po is supposed to be the most famous poet not only in the ancient China but also in the modern time for the area of South Asia. His poets have the strength over time and cultures, which has been proved by the number of his poems translated to various languages, as well as articles and books about him written by Western scholars. There are several elements which explain the intercultural popularity of his writings. One of them is the spirit’s presence of Romanticism, which is a literary movement in Western Europe during 17th century, in poems composed by Li Po, an ancient Chinese poet in 8th century.

As an Asian student who is studying in the United States, I found this topic interesting because it proves a connection within literature in particular and arts in general. When I read translated versions of Li Po’s poems in English, I realized those version cannot bring all the original spirit to the readers; some of meanings only people who has been grown up with Asian culture understand. The question here is why, after such a lost, Li Po’s poems still have the power to touch souls of various individuals everywhere. The connection of arts is the very answer for that question as proved by the case of Li Po.

Digging deeply in his treasure of poetry, the readers would notice similarities he shared with Romantic writers in Europe. His tendency of strong senses and emotional feelings rather than logical thoughts, his appreciation towards nature, his belief in the good core of men, the celebration of the self which considers the artist as the creator, and after all, the desire for the ideal which is unreal are the very characteristics of Romanticism itself which started nine centuries after Li Po’s age.

This topic would be useful in any culture-related classes, such as Anthropology or even Philosophy. Real art has no boundary and human share some common traits no matter where they live, which age they belong, or who they are culturally. However, I could only examine the similarities between Li Po’s poetry and Romanticism while the different nuances and tends based on the basement of those similarities are not mentioned much in my project.

To do this project, there is one important source I couldn’t mention in my bibliographies. That is translated versions of Li Po’s poems in an ancient language which is called Chinese-Vietnamese. It has the very same characters with Chinese, but can be read in the Vietnamese pronunciation, and then, written down again in modern Latin Vietnamese. Thanks to those characteristics, I am able to read his poems mostly originally, even the rhyme and the tone, which is useful to feel the poem, compare it with the English version, and acknowledge what is still remained.

In the same field with the first one is the second one, English versions of Li Po’s poems, outstanding among which are the book “The Selected Poems of Li Po” compiled by David Hinton and the Norton Anthology of World Literature. I compared word-by-word for my selected poems and discovered more dimensions through which Western readers access those ones.

The third source I want to mention here is the chapter “Defining Decadence in the Chinese Poetic Tradition” of the book “The Poetics of Decadence: Chinese Poetry of the Southern Dynasties and Late Tang Periods” written by Wu Fusheng. He addresses two prominent features of Chinese poetry: thoughts which cannot be tamed in words, and the harmony between a man and the universe. For the thesis statement this project centers on, the chapter provides strong viewpoints about Li Po’s appreciation of nature. In ancient Chinese poetry, nature was treated as the universe, and the harmony started once the man treasured nature and saw himself reflected in it.

The chapter “Some Chinese Concepts and Ways of Thinking and Feeling” in “The Art of Chinese Poetry” of James Liu is also a critical source. My project is about the similarities, therefore a source about specific characteristics would play the role of a main background based on which I determine what are important common traits shared by those two different cultures, one of which considers Li Po as a prominent literature’s representative.

As I listed in the previous parts, my project would follow the frame built up by main characteristics of Romanticism in 17th century, and prove that those ones also appeared in Li Po’s poems. For each of characteristics, I would provide examples in some Li Po’s poems and famous Romantic writers; and analysis the connection shared unintentionally by those works. I did read some sources about the age of translating Chinese poetry in Western, which occurred at the beginning of the 20th century, but found them least useful because it focuses mainly on the differences in styles of translators. Meanwhile, sources depicting key values of Chinese culture’s in general and Li Po’s poems in particular are ones from which I have consulted the most.

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Published in Nhật Ký


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