By Rosemary M. Canfield Reisman
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Additional resources for Asian Poets (Critical Survey of Poetry)
W. Thomas’s Ancient Folk-Literature from North-Eastern Tibet (1957). The collection edited by Thomas includes writings in both prose and verse, the latter generally favoring dactylic meter. These texts include several tales of a mythical nature. One tale tells of humankind’s fall from an earlier golden age to an “Age of Debts and Taxes,” which was brought on by the return to the sky of a lineage of divine kings. Another tale repeats the theme of the decline of a golden age, during which all creatures lived in harmony, and the subsequent dark age, brought on by the influences of evil demons and ill luck, during which the horse became separated from its wild relative, the kiang (a species of wild ass) and fell under the subjugation of humans.
The provenance of many early Tibetan religious works, particularly those of the Buddhist rNying-ma (old ones) school and many works in the Bonpo tradition, is obscure. An entire genre called gTer-ma (“treasure”) is purported to be the work of various historical (and sometimes mythical) religious personages and to have been unearthed by later religious masters called gTer-bston (“revealers of treasure”). The Bar-do thossgrol (book that grants liberation in the place between death and rebirth merely by its hearing, commonly called The Tibetan Book of the Dead in Western translations) is such a work and is attributed to the eighth century Indian Tantric master Padmasambhava, who is venerated as one of the two major founders of Tibetan Buddhism.
In his autobiography, he states unabashedly that at the age of seven he pondered “only high matters” and wrote verses about beautiful birds, while other children his age were dealing with puerile subjects such as dogs and cats. At an early age, Du Fu also mastered a great number of the characters which make up written Chinese. He was writing so extensively by the age of nine, he claims, that his output could easily have filled several large bags. Not much else is known about Du Fu’s early years.