Interpretations of Han Yu’s “Poem of the Two Birds”
By Lap Lam
B.C. Asian Review, Vol. 11 (1997-98)
Introduction: Unlike the generations of Chinese poets preceding them, poets who lived after the High Tang Period were compelled to compare the excellence of their works with their forerunners. Realizing the difficulty of surpassing the achievements set by High Tang poets, some of them experimented with fresh and imaginative ways of writing.
This resulted in the development of two new styles in the Mid Tang Period. One is the simple, straightforward yue fu style advocated by the likes of Bai Juyi (772-846) and Yuan Chen (779-831), the other the rugged, outlandish experimental “ancient poems” by Han Yu (768-824) and Meng Jiao (751-814).
Although the literary attainments of poetry belonging to the latter category are widely recognized, at the same time, because of their unusual metaphors, abstruse sentences, and awkward expressions, this strain of verse is also criticized by some as too obscure and lacking an easily identifiable sense of beauty.
The often nebulous implications found in this poetry also puzzle commentators, leaving them with numerous questions to debate. Han Yu’s “Poem of the Two Birds” (“Shuang niao shi”) is one example of such a polemical poem.