• Birth Name: Wang Ching-hsien (王靖獻)
• Born: Sept. 6, 1940
• Died: March 13, 2020
• Birthplace: Hualien
• Did You Know That …?
Inspired by Romanticist poet John Keats, Yang Mu was fond of the idea of becoming a war correspondent, but it was the encouragement of Chen Shih-hsiang (陳世驤), Yang’s mentor at the University of California, Berkeley, at which the celebrated writer was pursuing a PhD degree, that persuaded Yang to seriously consider embarking on an academic career and exploring the vastness and depth of literature.
The late Yang Mu is a towering figure in Taiwanese literature who left behind a significant body of poems, proses, and critiques. The superb craftsman’s literary achievements have in fact become a subject worthy of thorough and dedicated studies by future scholars, as Hsu Yu-fang (許又方), convener of the "Yang Mu Literature Chair (楊牧文學講座)," once said.
Since the age of 15, Yang had been regularly published by poetry magazines such as "Modern Poetry (現代詩)," "Blue Star (藍星)," "Genesis (創世紀)," and "New Poetry Today (今日新詩)." The gifted writer was also editor-in-chief of "Seagull Poetry Quarterly (海鷗詩刊)," a supplement in the Eastern Taiwan Daily News (東臺日報).
Yang was admitted to the History Department of Tunghai University in 1959. At that time, the young poet knew very little about the Taichung-based school, except that it was new and had a relatively unconventional educational system. In addition, prominent intellectuals, such as Hsu Fu-Kuan (徐復觀, 1903-1982) and Mou Tsung-san (牟宗三, 1909-1995), once taught at the university. Magnetically drawn to history, the Hualien native moved from the east coast to central Taiwan to further his studies.
However, Yang later realized the lectures he took were different from what he had expected. Owing to a well-founded fear of persecution during Taiwan's politically repressive era known as the White Terror, some of Yang's lecturers refrained from teaching students all that they really knew and believed in. "At that time, I really felt very, very disappointed," the writer recalled.
Encouraged by close friends Yu Kwang-chung (余光中, 1928-2017) and Huang Yung (黃用), the budding poet transferred to the Department of Foreign Languages and began his literary journey with classics of Western literature while heading into his sophomore year at the central Taiwanese university. Yang went on to hold a Master of Arts degree in English from the University of Iowa and a PhD in Comparative Literature from the University of California, Berkeley.
In 1960, the gifted author published a collection called "On the Water Margin: A Collection of Poems (水之湄)" under the pen name Ye Shan (葉珊), winning him critical acclaim. Apart from publishing critiques and translations, Yang worked primarily as a poet and a prose writer. His works have been translated into Dutch, English, French, German, Japanese, Korean, and Swedish, among other languages.
In 1972, the author began to show solicitude for social and historic issues and changed his pen name to Yang Mu. Works reflecting these interests include two collections of autobiographical essays — "Storms over Hills and Ocean: Memoirs I (山風海雨)" and "Direction Back to Zero: Memoirs II (方向歸零)." Other notable pieces include 1989's "The Completion of a Poem: Letters to Young Poets (一首詩的完成)," which discusses his vision for modern poetry.
Apart from his literary achievements, Yang promoted classical theories and philosophy through co-editing "New Wave Collection (新潮叢書)," a series on contemporary western writers. Yang later teamed up with Chih Wen Publishing (志文出版社) to open the Hung-Fan Bookstore (洪範書店), which has become a major publisher with a profound impact on Taiwan's literary scene.
In 2018, National Dong Hwa University, where Yang was part of the driving force behind the establishment of its College of Humanities and Social Sciences, set up the Yang Mu Center for Literary Studies (楊牧文學研究中心) to preserve and honor the poet-educator's exceptional contributions.
The award-winning maestro was rarely seen in public after reaching his eighties. The literature titan passed away in March 2020 as his wife Hsia Ying-ying (夏盈盈) read out loud his poem "Vessel of Clouds (雲舟)."