De bloesems vallen - waarom toch zo'n haast?
Op leeftijd wil ik dat de lente draalt.
Helaas dat alle plaatsen van genot
Verschillen van de dagen van mijn jeugd.
Wat mij het hart ontspant is slechts de wijn,
Wat mij de geest verzet de poëzie.
Deze idee zou Tao Yuanming begrijpen -
Mijn leven valt veel later dan het jouwe!
Vertaling: W.L. Idema
Listen to this poem in Mandarin.
Voiced by: Luoyi Cai
This poem in 60 seconds
In the poem Kexi (Too Bad), an elderly Du Fu laments about how fast he has to say goodbye to the happier days of his childhood. Just like the wilting flowers he is declining as well. Only ale and good poetry bring him satisfaction anymore.
Want to know more? On this website you can listen to the poem, discover its origins and its author and find out what the poem means to the people of Leiden.
Gongyi 712 - Tanzhou 770
Du Fu grew up in Gongyi, about 650 kilometers southwest of Beijing. His first poems spoke of his childhood, about the passing of time and about his surroundings’ response to his poetry. We know, for example, that his family was rich enough to pay for his education to become a civil servant, but that he failed the exam. His whole life, he wanted to be a high-ranking civil servant rather than a poet. Du Fu married when he was forty years old and the pair had five children.
In 755, when Du Fu was 43 years old and worked a not-so-important job as a civil servant, the An Lushan Rebellion broke out, which would last for eight years. He brought his wife and children to safety, but he himself was captured by the rebels. Du Fu escaped and adopted a nomadic lifestyle. In his poems, he called himself an old man and a survivor of war and famine. He also wrote bitterly about the corruption and the cruelties at the royal court and the suffering of the country’s poor population.
The last fifteen years of Du Fu’s life were overshadowed by the effects of the rebellion. He was in poor health and suffered many physical issues. Ultimately, he settled in Sichuan with his wife and children en wrote poems about a happier life. When he passed away, he left behind 1,457 poems. By far the largest part was written after the rebellion.
What’s this poem about?
In the poem Kexi, Too Bad in English, Du Fu wistfully looks back on his childhood. The flowers fall, the spring, the youth is over. Time passes too quickly and the things that brought him relief when he was younger, do not do so anymore. Only poetry can distract him now. Tao Yuanming (365 - 427), a famous Chinese poet that lived more than 300 years before Du Fu, would have understood that.
W.L. Idema, professor emeritus in sinology and translator of Du Fu’s poetry, once said: ‘Chinese poetry is often strange because it only says what it says. And what it says, often appears very to the point to a Western reader.’
Du Fu wrote this poem when he was of older age, after experiencing rebellion and war from up close.
Stories from Leiden
It is quite busy in Chinese restaurant ‘Panda’ in the Kopermolen shopping centre. Mrs. Xao Ping's granddaughter is celebrating her birthday. All children and grandchildren have come together, as is tradition in Mrs. Ping’s family. She would like to have a photograph taken with everyone. Underneath the Chinese wall poem would be a great spot. Mrs. Ping is very proud to have a wall poem in her native tongue. She wants her grandchildren to start learning Chinese, but it is up to them to decide if they want to. First they have to do well in their Dutch schools. The birthday girl doesn’t want to take a picture with her grandmother, but this doesn’t bother Mrs. Ping. The wall poem is in classical Chinese, but Mrs. Ping understands what it says. However, the content doesn’t appeal to her very much. Of course, things are not the way they used to be. They weren’t, even back in the old days. Unfortunately, that’s just the way it is.
Photo: Patricia Nauta
Text: Joop van Gerven
Share your story
Does this poem hold a special place in your heart? For example, do you remember when you first read the poem? Or did you come across it someplace unexpected? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org! We would love to add your story to our website.
Du Fu in Leiden
Photo: Anoesjka Minnaard
This poem was painted at Buizendhorst 22 in October 2000. It was the 79th wall poem realized by the TEGEN-BEELD Foundation. On the initiative of the working group Leiden Stad van Vluchtelingen (‘Leiden: City of Fugitives’) and in collaboration with the neighborhood community of the Slaaghwijk, the year 2000 saw the realization of five wall poems on different apartment complexes in their original languages: Turkish, Tamazight, Sarnami, Dutch and Mandarin (Chinese). Du Fu’s poem is one of these. All poems are illustrated with plants or flowers, blossoms in the case of Kexi (Too Bad).
This poem’s design may raise a Chinese eyebrow: painter Jan Willem Bruins has used a printed type style, while a similar artistic expression in China would have been calligraphed.
Du Fu saw the terrible time that war-torn China suffered, especially the pain and suffering amongst the ordinary people, and the court running away from the capital.
Dr Tao Tao Liu, retired lecturer of Modern Chinese at Wadham College, Oxford
They are as important in Chinese literary history as Shakespeare is to people in Britain.
Historian Yuan Haiwang, author of the book This Is China: The First 5,000 Years about Du Fu and Li Bai
I have saturated myself with his poetry for thirty years. I am sure he has made me a better man, as a moral agent and as a perceiving organism.
Kenneth Rexroth, English translator of Du Fu’s poetry.
- Du Fu drank a lot of alcohol, but inebriety was considered the way to divine inspiration in ancient China.
- Du Fu is viewed as one of the greatest poets in the history of China and his poetry is part of the Chinese canon. Every Chinese citizen learns about Du Fu’s poems when they are young.
- Du Fu had become so poor in his later life that one of his children died of malnourishment.
- Du Fu knew and admired the famous Chinese poet and his contemporary Li Bai (701 - 762).
- Kaiser Kuo, the founder of China’s very first heavy metal band Tang Dynasty, draws inspiration from Li Bai’s en Du Fu’s poetry.
You can watch a short video about Du Fu’s life here.
How come flowers are in such a hurry to fall? -
Getting older, I want spring to slow down.
Too bad that spots of pleasure and joy
are not at all as they were when I was young and strong.
To ease the mind there's only ale,
nothing excels poems for expressing my mood.
Tao Qian understood what I have in mind,
but I was born after him.
Translation: Walter de Gruijter
This entry was written by Het Taalmuseum in collaboration with Hansje Weijer. The translation into English is by Emma Knapper. The following sources were consulted:
- W.L. Idema, De verweesde boot, klassieke Chinese gedichten (Amsterdam 1989)
- W. de Gruijter, the poetry of Du Fu (2016).
- Wikipedia (Nederlands)
- Wikipedia (Engels)
- New World Encyclopedia
- Du Fu Wonderkind en dichter
- Thatched cottage of Du Fu
- 100 Tang Poems: Du Fu
- Li Bai and Du Fu: China's drunken superstar poets
- Het multiculturele (muurgedichten)project in de Leidse Slaaghwijk