Bill Porter
'In Such Hard Times' by Red Pine/Bill Porter

"On this day of drink and depression / I think about life on our Tuling farm / where will I be on the Ninth of next year / in such hard times I can't hope to go home," wrote the poet Wei Ying-Wu in the year 756 AD. At the time he was only about 20, and his world was crashing down. Ch'ang-An, the capital of the T'ang Dynasty, and one of the great cities of the pre-modern world, had just been sacked by a rebel army. An ancient civilization's noblest era was about to pass into violent decline. Wei did more than act as witness: He lived the consequences of this chaos, and considered it in the poems he constantly composed. For Wei, poetry was a habit, a mode of...