Unlike Qu Yuan, who was of noble origin, Song Yu was born to a poor, commoner family. Recommended to the King of Chu by friends, he was assigned to a minor post as Attendant of Letters in the court. Though the King appreciated his literary talent, his ambitions were thwarted, and under constant slanders from certain jealous officials, he was soon stripped of his position and returned to his fief where he was to spend the rest of his life.
Song Yu was not just an accomplished literature master, but a handsome man of courteous, scholarly bearing. Some sources would classify him among the top four most handsome men of ancient China.
Song’s contribution to Chinese literature is a few outstanding, influential compositions of the fu genre. According to the Book of Han, he wrote altogether 16 pieces of fu, 14 of which have been handed down such of Jiu Bian (Nine Arguments) and Dengtuzi Haose Fu (Dengtuzi, the Lustful). Song is a great successor to Qu Yuan in the aspect of composing fu, developing his own styles that were to influence later writers. His name is often put together with Qu Yuan, known as “Qu-Song”.
Song Yu is held to have initiated the tradition of bei qiu (autumnal melancholy) in Chinese classic literature.
“Alas for the autumn air!
Bleak and cold, plants shake and lose their leaves and petals, falling into decay.”
Such laments were to be echoed by later writers through the following two millennia. And references to Song Yu have been constant in Chinese classic poetry themed on bei qiu.
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