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Xiaofei Tian

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9789888528448

Published to Hong Kong Scholarship Online: May 2021

DOI: 10.5790/hongkong/9789888528448.001.0001

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Sources of Difficulty

Sources of Difficulty

Reading and Understanding Du Fu

(p.111) 7 Sources of Difficulty
Reading Du Fu

Christopher M. B. Nugent

Hong Kong University Press

This essay examines the common notion, beginning in the Song period, that Du Fu is a difficult poet to read and understand. By comparing the lexical range and allusions found in a representative set of Du Fu’s works with the vocabulary and literary-historical knowledge found in a range of medieval educational texts, I argue that if Du Fu’s poetry, in both shi and fu forms, would likely be understandable to any Tang period reader with a basic literary education. Moreover, on a basic linguistic and cultural level, Du Fu’s poetry appears to have been no more difficult than that of Wang Wei, a poet who does not have a similar reputation for difficulty. Du Fu’s poetic language does make demands of his readers, but those demands are not based on the difficulty of his vocabulary and allusions.

Keywords:   poetic difficulty, vocabulary benchmarks, allusions

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