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Competing with creative transformation : the poetry of Ouyang Xiu (1007-1072) Hawes, Colin S.C.


A detailed study of the poetry (shi R#) of Ouyang Xiu (1007-1072). Though Ouyang Xiu was one of the major cultural figures of the northern Song period (960-1126), later generations have rather neglected his poetry. After a brief introduction explaining this neglect, my study begins with a biographical sketch, outlining Ouyang's public career and concentrating on events that may have shaped his development as a poet. Chapter two deals with Ouyang's poems on mountains, one of his most favoured topics. I describe three kinds of mountain poems: dynamic, forceful works; tranquil works; and those which compare different kinds of mountains in an intellectual manner. Frequently domestic or cultural objects — stone screens, calligraphic rubbings, music — provide the inspiration for Ouyang's mountain poetry. Chapters three and four turn from the "cosmic" level of mountains to the "domestic" world, to discover whether other everyday objects exert a similar effect on his imagination. Chapter three deals with activities: poems on tea and wine drinking; eating; sleeping; music and calligraphy. These works tend to jump back and forth between the mundane and the transcendent, as Ouyang traces each subject to its source in the natural world. Chapter four treats the buildings, gardens, pets and plants in Ouyang's immediate environment. Techniques of caricature and witty argumentation increasingly appear in his mature verse. Water is a central figure in Ouyang's mountain poems. Chapter five reverts to the "cosmic" level to discuss Ouyang's poetry on water in its many transformations: storms, snow, reflected moonlight, rivers and the ocean. In his mature works, Ouyang increasingly mixes levels of discourse — prosaic and lyrical, pure and crude — to indicate the complexity of human reaction to outside events. The concluding chapter summarizes the evolution of Ouyang's poetic style. I define wit, noting its centrality in the English poetic tradition. I carefully analyse Ouyang's recorded comments on poetry: he constantly advocates breadth and variety of mood and subject matter, including even laughter and joking, crudity and baseness. I suggest possible influences on his style, especially Mid-Tang poets like Han Yu and Bai Juyi, and his own contemporary, Mei Yaochen. Finally, I yoke together the concept of wit and Ouyang's phrase "competing with Creative Transformation": like the English witty poets, Ouyang transforms harsh realities into ingenious artistic structures, and finds vitality in the midst of suffering and destruction.

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