scholar and poet Xu Zhimo developed a style that challenged the traditional poetic styles of china but more importantly challenged the ideas of freedom, morality and love. Xu demonstrated a modernity that included the self as the object of poetic works and he wrote largely without regard for the linguistic constraints of classic Chinese poetry in what would later become known as a free form style. A careful analysis of a few of Xu Zhimo's selected poems will demonstrate for the reader the innovative new ways Xu Zhimo dealt with anxieties and solitudes, hesitations and doubts, nostalgia and expectancy, exile and dreams, all constant themes in romantic minds and works.
In his work Chance, one can his demonstration of the ideals of love and longing, a chance meeting in the night with the language of nature. In and out of one another's lives, with no real authority to remain:
I am a cloud in the sky, chance shadow on the wave of your heart.
In many ways this work epitomizes Xu's style as it details the serendipity that can dictate both the good and the bad of the everyday life. Life does not seem to offer the choice of rejecting solitude with the certainty of changing one's life by connecting it, by choice to another.
Xu Zhimo demonstrates a strong sense of self-determination, especially with regards to love and free political will. His works span only a very short lifetime, despite Xu Zhimo's well educated and well traveled life of profundity his life ended tragically at age thirty six, the victim of a plane crash. Xu Zhimo bears his soul through his short life in a literary career bound in modernity. He travels the road from romantic idealism to near the end of his life pessimism and heartbreak. It is not known how Xu Zhimo's outlook or literary endeavors might have changed, had he lived longer but his story is often seen as one of unrequited love, repeatedly trapped by the propriety of his age.
At the same time there were also a few perceptive people who sympathized with his views in the belief that one must thoroughly expose the human potential for ugliness and frailty if there is to be hope for progress and improvement.
Xu Zhimo, 1928, " Tangmaishi Hedai ": 72.)
Xu Zhimo was greatly influenced by his travels and the literature of the English language, having studied in the United States and Great Britain respectively.
Gunn 108) Xu Zhimo also openly admired and was well versed in English romanticism and social protest literature, like that associated with Keats and Shelly (OSU "Xu Zhimo (1895-1931)")
Xu Zhimo challenged the old guard by writing free form poetry in the vernacular rather than in the classically accepted language variations. He often wrote in first person, a concept often suppressed within the traditional styles of poetry. "As Hu Shi recognized, "his poetry expresses the conflict between the ideals of love, freedom and beauty and the world" and Mao Dun wrote, "his optimistic idealism of the early period gives way to a more realistic pessimism in his later poems" (OSU "Xu Zhimo (1895-1931)")
In a short precise biography his short life is detailed, yet missing from this account is the various loves and losses he experienced in his life, including one of the first divorces on record, as a result of a loveless arranged marriage.
After receiving a classical Chinese education at Beijing University, Xu Zhimo went to the United States in 1918 to study economics and political science. Finding life there intolerable, he went to England in 1920 to study at Cambridge University, where he became fascinated with English Romantic poetry and decided upon a literary career. (Merriam-Webster's Encyclopedia of Literature -1995)
Xu Zhimo embarked on a very short but profound and prolific literary career that would change the face of his culture's literary freedom.
Xu Zhimo became a success in a creative endeavor that leaves a lasting legacy of change and free will.
Returning to China in 1922, Xu Zhimo began writing poems and essays in the vernacular style. He fell under the influence of the Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore while he was serving as interpreter for him during a lecture tour of China. All the foreign literature to which Xu Zhimo had been exposed served to shape his own poetry and establish him as a leader in the modern poetry movement in China. He served as an editor of the literary supplement of the Chen bao (Morning Post) and as a professor at various universities. In 1928 he helped organize the Xinyue shudian (Crescent Moon Book Company), which published a literary journal featuring Western literature. In addition to four collections of verse, Xu Zhimo produced several volumes of translations from many languages. (Merriam-Webster's Encyclopedia of Literature -1995)
Most importantly his works express his ideals and the changes that he made to the world of Chinese and even English literature and poetry. He was a master of change.
Amidst the swirling sea of humanity, I shall seek the only companion of my soul; if I find her, I am lucky; if I find her not, such is my fate, that is all." So wrote the poet Xu Zhimo in 1923 in a letter to Liang Qichao, the teacher who had been his greatest mentor. Liang knew that Xu was a faithful believer in "romantic love," but he warned him: "Alas! Where is there a perfect universe?" Young people loved to talk of romantic love, but such transcendent love could never be found. Furthermore, would such love make one happy in the future? As hard to grasp as a shadow, it had already caused so many people immeasurable suffering.
Xu Zhimo decided that in freedom he wished to seek a new life, real happiness and true love. Hence he was willing to bring down society's approbation on his head by divorcing the wife his parents had ordered him to marry, and beginning a passionate romance with Lu Xiaoman.... ("The Chinese View of Love," (http://www.taiwaninfo.org/info/sinorama/8601/601006e1.html)
Within one of Xu Zhimo's most distraught works is an assassination of the world, as a place where there is no room for real love. Xu writes of the cowards world which he sees all about him and begs his love to reject it and come into his arms, she should be willing to even die a paradise but none the less death.
Xu believed as many do, while nursing a broken heart that dying for love was one of the most true and valiant things an individual, with free will could do. Having been exiled into the life of unhappiness through an arranged and loveless marriage Xu asks his true love, to come away with him and if need be die for their union.
Xu Zhimo, while a in a period of self chosen exile in London recounts his final farewell to the place he has learned to call home, though never quite felt at home in. He expresses his nostalgia over how moving the familiarity of the place is yet also expresses the doubt that he, as a single person with no real belonging to the surrounding will make little if any mark upon the place.