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Modern Poetry in China: A Visual-Verbal Dynamic By Paul Manfredi

Chapter 1:  Li Jinfa
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Modern Poetry in China:

grumbling, I can only hope the kind reader will permit me this right. (Li 1987, 439)

The statement affirms the point that Li saw himself very much in the progressive light of the May Fourth movement, offering his work as some small contribution to the larger project of national renovation. It adds to this picture the dimension of romantic poetics, a component of May Fourth modernity that is more frequently associated with literary fiction but occasionally also poetry. For Li, the open expression of emotion was an important corrective, a kind of medicine to cure the ills of a repressed society. This idea ties in closely to the kinds of expectations placed on modern poetry discussed previously. Li was telling his audience that by reading his poetry, they will come to a new (and better) understanding about how men and women can interact. Yet really following any given poem to some new (modernized) state of being, an almost didactic exercise, is complicated by the opacity of Li’s expressions. The more Li seems to call for the Other’s attention, the more he sabotages the enterprise with his own inscrutability. Of this as well the poet seemed well aware, as these lines from “Spring City” 春城 would suggest:

When I die, although you’ll be able to read them,
You will never understand their meaning.

當我死了,你雖能讀它,
但終不能明白那意義

(ibid., 187)

The images that abound in Li’s work, from the first collection through the third, are often outlandish and collectively amount to a world furnished emotionally with hopelessness and grief and materially with hostile or withered manifestations of natural or dilapidated features of built environments. This is seen famously, for instance, in the first three stanzas of “A Thought” 有感 (Yougan) from Li’s second collection of poetry, Singing for Good Fortune 為幸福而歌 (Wei xingfu er ge) (1926):