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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:


The poem demonstrates a high level of opacity, particularly in these shifts in orientation. Most notably, if somewhat less commonly in terms of Li’s work in general, there is the radical shift from the first-person voice of the “abandoned woman” in the first two stanzas to a third-person description of the same woman in the final stanza. More generally still, and very much consistent with all of Li’s poetic work, many of the lines strain the boundaries of sense, with enjambment that has little grammatical support—“My sorrow is borne in the mind of a roaming bee; / Or from mountain streams cascades at the precipice, / And drifts down with the red leaves” (italics mine). Without such fundamental structure of meaning in the poem, the discrete elements come into view on their own: the speckled lawn, and stains on a crow, and all the other images that compose the poem barely hold their shape; the sense is almost one of language coming apart at the seams.

The poem also demonstrates another consistent attribute of Li’s work, namely, his affiliation with the Tang poet Li He 李賀 (790–816), particularly with this poem, “The Grave of Su Xiaoxiao” 蘇小小墓:

Dark, dew drenched orchid,
Like falling tears
Its heart tethered to nothing at all
Smoky tendrils can’t be cut
Grasses like yin
Pine trees like a lid
With wind for dress
Water for a girdle
A painted carriage
Waits in the night
Cold emerald candle
A labored light
Beneath the Western hill
Wind blows rain