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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:

set against the perceived grayness of convention, modern poetic lyricism steps out self-consciously, at times triumphantly, though more often than not timorously. Self-Portrait in Rome Moonlight, for instance, could very well be a companion piece to a similarly titled poem (“Moonlit Night” 月夜 yueye) by Shen Yinmo 沈尹默 (1883–1971), one of the first recorded “identifiably” modern poems published in the seminally important New Youth 新青年 (Xin qingnian) magazine in 1918, of which Shen himself was one of the editors:

A frigid wind is howling,
Moonlight shines bright,
I stand tall beside this single tree
Without leaning on it.

霜風呼呼地吹著,
月光明明地照著,
我和一棵頂高的樹並排立著,
確沒有靠著。11

As a widely recognized and, in contrast to other early experiments, successful modern poem, this work has a special place in the literary historical record. The success is attributed by readers both contemporary to its production and to subsequent authors who sought to emulate it as demonstrating traditional Chinese poetic characteristics.12 These features notwithstanding, it is clearly the poem’s modernity that has resonated through time, and that modernity is situated in the poem’s lyrical subject. This figure’s lonely stand can be read generically, as a break with the past (of poetic production) and the arrival of the modern individual on a new aesthetic landscape. Li Jinfa’s self-portrait image, of a similar title, fleshes this subject out, providing visual contours to the word-based self-fashioning, allowing the reader to see and experience the noble, even majestic solitude of modernity, and in so doing it establishes a kind of visual-verbal vocabulary for inherently modern experience.