and Notes by Willis Barnstone. In
Collaboration with Ko Ching-Po.
Originally published in hardback by
Harper & Row Publishers.
Mao Tse-tung was born in Hunan
Province in 1893, the son of an
impoverished and temperamental peasant.
Fifty-six years later, in October of
1949, he proclaimed from a balcony of
the Gate of Heavenly Peace in Peking the
founding of the People's Republic of
Mao is an enigmatic figure to the
West- a peasant revolutionary who united
a quarter of mankind. That he is also a
poet of extraordinary grace and eloquent
simplicity is totally unexpected. The
poems of this collection (from the 1963
Peking edition) are not the product of
an elder statesman's leisure; as Willis
Barnstone writes in his introduction,
"Mao has written poems obsessively,
during years of wandering and living in
caves, writing all night, evening after
evening, and then throwing away his
'scribbles.'" The poems themselves,
conservative in terms of Chinese
versification, are expressions of the
decades of struggle, of the terrible
loss of his first wife, of the hope for
a new China, the organization of the Red
Army, the 6,000-mile Long March, the
ultimate victory over the Nationalist
forces. Aside from their obvious
political interest, Mao's poems are
simply very beautiful in their own
Mao, like few good poets in our
century, seems immediately accessible,
indeed an easy poet--if deceptively so.
In this apparent simplicity, he has,
like Robert Frost, that rare ability to
speak to us on several levels at once.
In the soundless calligraphy of Chinese
ideograms, lucidly arranged, he records
his vision of nature and man. Old and
new China come together in his fresh
poems in the traditional style.