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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Li Deyu and the Tang Fu in Ninth Century China
by Knight, David Andrew, Ph.D., Yale University, 2014, 337; 3580732
Abstract (Summary)

Li Deyu (787-850) is known to history as a powerful minister, a cultivated aristocrat with a taste for the rare, a military strategist of uncommon perception, a wily participant in court factionalism, and an exile. He was all of these things. He was also a poet of singular abilities. His chosen style of poetry was the fu.

The genre fu is often translated with the English "rhapsody." Specialists now prefer to romanize it simply as fu, for it is a complex and irreducibly Chinese form of writing. Fu are poems written in rhymed couplets, predominately composed of tetrasyllabic and hexasyllabic lines. They can range from four lines to hundreds of lines in length. The majority of Li Deyu's extant fu are between fifty and seventy lines long. In the ninth century, fu can be lyrical, descriptive, philosophical, historical, or any combination of these. They may contain interspersed prose sections or even whole dialogues. Often they are preceded by a prose preface which describes their circumstances of composition. They are aurally rich, as is all poetry.

In short the fu is a style of poetry as complex and many-faceted as the man which this dissertation investigates. This is the first specialized study of Li Deyu's fu in any language which treats them in depth. I show that, in addition to their artistic value, Li Deyu's fu poetry offers a window into the world of ninth century China that affords a different view from other genres of poetry. My examination also reveals that medieval manuscript culture may be more reliably durable than hitherto supposed.

Chapter One places Li Deyu in a biographical setting which portrays his formative experiences with his father. In the process of composing a fu, Li Deyu then reenacts those experiences for his young son.

Chapter Two examines the blossoming of lotuses in medieval China. The lotus, ever a divine symbol of Buddhism, has an unexpected alter-ego in fu poetry. Its use by medieval poets, wed to both the bloom and the gathering of the plant, is most handsomely seen in the fu. Li Deyu's two fu on different lotus flowers are intimately attached to his personal life. This chapter explores the aspect of feminine sensuality connected to the lotus.

Chapter Three, conversely, scrutinizes the masculine sensuality attached to lotus flowers in medieval China. How male poets treat this topic can only be understood with reference to the feminine typology explicated in Chapter Two.

Chapter Fur recreates Li Deyu's poetic guidebook to birds. All of the species which he describes live into modern times. They have not biologically evolved in a way which we can notice in that short span of a little more than one thousand years. Yet, if one desires to see their glory as Li Deyu perceived it, one must consult his poetry. As we watch Li Deyu watching birds, we see extinct poetic avian fauna reanimated.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Chang, Kang-i Sun
School: Yale University
School Location: United States -- Connecticut
Source: DAI-A 75/09(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Asian literature, Asian Studies
Keywords: Fu poetry, Li Deyu, Tang fu, Yongwu fu
Publication Number: 3580732
ISBN: 978-1-321-05383-8
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