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  Ouyang Xiu                 (Wade-Giles name: Ou-yang Hsiu)
OUYANG XIU (1007 1072)

Ouyang Xiu is considered to be a prime example of the Chinese ideal of the multifaceted scholar official, equivalent to the Western ideal of the Renaissance man. He was raised by his widowed mother in great poverty in an isolated region of what is today Hubei. He studied on his own and with the help of his mother for the Imperial Examinations, which were important credentials for government service, a road that was opened to him by the rise of printing early in the Song dynasty. While studying, he was strongly influenced by the works of Han Yu, whose works had been largely forgotten by this time. He passed the Imperial Examinations in 1030 and embarked on a lifelong and quite successful career as an official in Luoyang (though he found himself twice exiled during his career). He is the author of a famous history, The New History of the Tang, and the compiler of The New History of the Five Dynasties, and he wrote an influential set of commentaries on historical inscriptions titled Postscripts to Collected Ancient Inscriptions. He is also the author of a set of commentaries on poetics titled Mr. One six's Talks on Poetics. (Mr. One six was a pen name of his that referred to his desire to be always in the presence of his wine, chess set, library, zither, and archaeological collection; thus, the five things he enjoyed plus himself---one old man among them---made six "ones.") This compilation was the first treatise in the aphoristic shi hua form. Ouyang Xiu is esteemed as a prose master whose essays have clean and simple language and fluid argumentation; he helped lead a movement away from ornamental prose styles to a simpler style of "ancient prose," a traditionalist movement that had as its aim a Confucian moral regeneration.
        His poetry is also marvelous, and he was instrumental in raising the lyric (ci) form of poetry (poems written to fit popular songs) into a widespread and important Song poetic style. His plain style and use of colloquial expressions made his poetry accessible to larger audiences and helped preserve its freshness for audiences today. Like Andrew Marvell, he was a sensualist who is known for his carpe diem poems. Even just before his death, he wrote a poem about how "Just before the frost comes, the flowers / facing the high pavilion seem so bright." Late in life he gave himself the title "The Old Drunkard." He was also an individualist, both in his approach to writing and in his interpretations of the classics; sinologist J. P. Seaton sees this individualism as an outgrowth of his self education. As a politician, he was known for his Confucian ethics. A man with many talents, he is not easily summed up in a brief headnote.
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Rock Screen Road

The Rock Screen stands alone piercing floating clouds.
For a long time the stone paths have lacked human traces.
I take my wine and lie drunk under the screen,
watching over a thousand peaks the bright autumn moon.

        ---Translated by Tony Barnstone and Chou Ping

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Note: Rock Screen is a rock outcropping that is so smooth it looks like a standing screen.

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Thoughts While Silently Reciting Mei Yaochen's Poems on Horseback

When the mood comes my brush has tons of strength.
When I'm wine-sober the human world's ten thousand things are empty.
Su Shi and Mei Yaochen, the two masters, are dead now.
Alone in Chu Mountains is one drunk old man.

        ---Translated by Tony Barnstone and Chou Ping

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In Fun Reply to Yuan Zhen's Poem "Blooming Season, Long Rain"

I doubt spring wind reaches the edge of heaven.
February and no flowers are seen in this mountain city.
Leftover snow weighs on branches where tangerines still hang.
Frozen thunder startles bamboo shoots about to sprout.
Hearing returning cranes at night make me homesick,
My sickness remains in the new year and I ponder landscape beauty.
Once I was a guest among the flowers in Luoyang City
so why should I sigh that the wildflowers blossom too late?

        ---Translated by Tony Barnstone and Chou Ping

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Note: This poem was written in 1037 when Ouyang Xiu was in Yi Ling (in today's Hubei province) to reply to a poem from Yuan Zhen, (real name Ding Baochen), an official in Yi Ling. The reason Ou Yangxiu put the word "Fun" in the title is to cover up his disappointment about his own political career at this moment. Ou Yangxiu himself was very proud of his control of the tone in this poem.

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Two Poems Inscribed for the Southern Tower

1

I stole a year of leisure in Qing State,
for four seasons all day long only facing rock mountains.
You must know I'm a lover of mountains.
Not one of my poems does not talk about mountains.

2

The drunk old man is never sober anywhere.
What does he do here in Qing State?

Goes back in but detains a guest to brag about his wine
then naps, wakes, leans on his pillow, and watches horizontal mountains.

        ---Translated by Tony Barnstone and Chou Ping


 

 
     
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