Bei Dao’s Poem ‘An End or a Beginning’ depicts the endless protestors ‘murdered’ by the cruelty of the Cultural Revolution and the continuity of life in search of hope after many lives taken away. The loss of hope looked for “In every dream” after every day, reinforces the everlastingly hunt of freedom and end of the Cultural Revolution even though it feels just out of grasp and the sacrifice to get there is unavoidable.
The setting of the poem in nature where the “trees”, “clouds” and “stars” are, connotes the freedom of the outdoors with no restrictions contrasting with the people living under the unnatural aggression of the Cultural Revolution. The destruction of the people’s freedom is shown in stanza one where someone protests like “the sun rises” and “A heavy shadow, like a road Shall run across the land” will destroy the pureness of one’s courage. The sun is like a person’s boldness to ‘stand’ against the Cultural Revolution like the nature of the sun rising and the ‘heavy shadow’ looming over the sun darkens the atmosphere covering all hope and demolishes it like how nature is corrupted by roads built for the selfishness of man.
The repeated anticipation of hope can be seen even after the brutality of oppression by the revolution. The persona’s personal response can be seen in stanza five to emphasize the search for the hope of new beginning. The repetition of ‘I look for’ portray the things dreamed for all of which are beautiful images of nature which connote freedom and places of no boundaries. Contrasting this ideal illustration, the actual land with “A heavy shadow”, “A sorrowing mist” covered with “wretched cigarette stubs” all convey negative images of a worn area.
The structure of the poem follows similar lines in each stanza except stanza 4 where the word “towmen” is on its own near the middle of the paragraph. The diction “towmen” used all alone in one line emphasizes how people are pulled and manipulated by the communists who control the Cultural Revolution. The Yellow River mentioned before the “towmen” shows how much impact the communists has had as the Yellow River is a very important river in China. By asking if “even the ropes of the Yellow River” can be controlled is like questioning how the manipulators could be so powerful. As the Poem comes to the end, the stanzas very slightly diminishes to allow the reader feel a less abrupt ending which relates to the sadness of a dying end.
Death throughout the poem is constantly mentioned to illustrate its recurrence. Diction such as “murdered”, “gone”, “forever” all convey the permanent lost of lives which cannot be stopped but only replaced and repeated due to the unforgiving violence of the Revolution. The hope of renewing the land can be seen in stanza six where Dao explains how “fresh blood” needs to be shed in order to help rebuild the land and create new life and hope “on tomorrow’s branches”. Branches, relating to trees display an image of life and growth which provide “The ripened fruit” which would mean the country being able to feed and look after itself because of the lives killed to make the land “fertile” and grow.
Repetition is used a lot in the poem. The repetition of ‘Here I stand Replacing another, who has been murdered” represent all the protestors who stood up against the Revolution, died and then replaced and killed again. This is used to exemplify the problem which gives people “no other choice” but to keep doing it because there is no other way out and hope which is only “Stars” which “glimmer in the wind”. Wind being a powerful source contrasts with the small glimmering stars which connote hope emphasize how there is little chance of survival.
‘An End or a Beginning’ uses the strong image of nature to represent the freedom of which is natural with the dark gloomy illustrations of “clouds”, “mists” and “wind” to convey the dark disasters of the Cultural revolution causing devastation and “growing forests of gravestones” ending lives where hope is already slim increasing loss.