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Chinese Poetry - The Classic of Odes & Chu Ci

Time:2012-07-05   Source:People’s Daily Online

In ancient China, people had profuse feelings to express when historical events took place, both joyful or of grief. Classical literature possesses a profound culture, and is the epitome of the spirit, morals and wisdom of the Chinese people. It reflects the high level of civilization. The literary forms vary over this long period and each had its blaze of glory.

Long before the written word appeared, there was an oral tradition of tales of fairies and legends. However, it is a pity that most of these have been lost as they were not collected and duly recorded for posterity.

Poetry

Classical poetry cares a great deal for rhythm. Poetry is one of the earliest artistic forms as well as the most fully developed in China. Poems written in verse outpour strong sensibility through imagination and lyrics. Tone, rhythm and couplets are all strict. Only by having an embodiment of appreciation, can one feel the artistic conception and implication. The effect is like the after taste of a cup of tea, lingering and appealing.

The Classic of Odes

The Classic of Odes is the first poem collection covering 305 poems from the early Western Zhou Dynasty (11th century BC - 711 BC) to the middle Spring and Autumn Period (770 BC - 476 BC). As the starting point of Chinese literature, it enjoys a high reputation of artistic value and had a great influence on the works that followed. The works can be divided into three parts: Feng, Ya, and Song (Ode), which derived its name from music items. Feng indicates the local tune and collected folk songs of 15 states, Ya including Daya and Xiaoya are the movements for nobles; and Song is the music used during sacraments in temple. The writing skills rely on the ’Fu’ (narrative), ’Bi’ (figuration (simile and metaphor)), and ’Xing’ (symbolization, and contrast), and give aesthetic feelings in tone. Throughout the book you can read by means of the connotation between the lines the reality of people of different classes.

Chu Ci

Chu Ci, or The Songs of the South, is another important poem collection which appeared 300 years after The Classic of Odes. It was finished by Liu Xiang in Western Han Dynasty (206 BC - 24), through collecting works of the noted poet Qu Yuan and his disciples. Chu Ci, as the book’s name indicates, is derived from the songs of the southern state Chu during the Warring States Period (476 BC - 221 BC).

Qu Yuan, who furthered the development of the new poem style, is famed as a great patriotic poet and politician in the Chu state. Although talented, he was never appointed to positions of importance on account of his directness and the treachery of another official. He tried his best to ease the conjunctures of the state but failure led him to throw himself into the Miluo River with disappointment, sorrow and wrath. His story is reflected in the most well-known poem among the works is Li Sao.

This poetry book changed the simple and brief style of The Classic of Odes, and completely distinctive. It is magnificent in its length and rhetoric and ornate diction, and shows the writers’ fertile imagination and effusive emotion. The ancient poetry really enlightened the poets that came after with its romanticism.

Han Yuefu

Yuefu in Han Dynasty (206 BC - 220) is a creation of the lower class working people. Thus with quite natural and simple language, the contents are colorful in its expression of narrative and lyrics. Stories in the poems are vivid and lively, and employ the methods of figurative speech and personification. Despite their needy lives, people still cherished the stability of love, retained goodness and opposed evils and wars. The most prominent works are Mo Shang Sang, Zhan Cheng Nan (War in the South of Town), Orphan’s Song, and A Pair of Peacocks Southeast Fly.

Mo Shang Sang tells a story of a beautiful woman who rejects flirtatious officials and pays tribute to her charm and enduring faith. Zhan Cheng Nan is a poem that complains about the cruelty of war. In the Orphan’s Song, the orphan tells of his sadness following the death of his parents, although he has brother and sister-in-law. A Pair of Peacocks Southeast Fly praises the unwavering love of a couple despite the opposition of their parents who try to obstruct them.