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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:

如啼眼
無物結同心
煙花不堪剪
草如茵
松如蓋
風為裳
水為佩
油壁車
夕相待
冷翠燭
勞光彩
西陵下
風吹雨21

The fantastic scenery is consistent, and the ghostly presence, a favorite theme of Tang poets, is carried forth into modernity by Li’s “Abandoned Woman” in particular. Li’s line “The old, worn skirt emits a mournful wail,” shift from first- to third-person notwithstanding, serves to resituate Li He’s subject of bygone beauties (“With wind for dress”) in modern context. It is, though, Li He’s imagery—the carriage, kingfishers, and “weary light”—that corresponds most directly to Li Jinfa’s “ornamentation of the world.” Such imagery has historically landed Li He in the same category as Li Jinfa, the “ghostly genius” of Tang poetry, to be revered but also criticized. Li Jinfa’s “Abandoned Woman,” then, often cited as one of the major steps in the progression of modern Chinese poetry, a transition point for the entire genre generally thought to be situated in Li’s study of symbolism, is clearly at least equally marked by his reinscription of classical poetics and specifically the fringe of that body of work.

Simply conflating Li Jinfa’s work with Li He’s would be just as much a mistake as conflating him with Baudelaire, as neither the premodern Chinese nor nineteenth-century French examples carry with them the same didactic orientation. In such a work, an assumption remains that a reader’s engagement brings him or her closer to a quintessentially modern experience, or even that the reader is in effect modernized in the engagement with the text. This expectation emerges from the broader