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Classical Chinese Poetry: An Anthology - The History and Development of a Literary Tradition


Classical Chinese Poetry: An Anthology Books.pdf




If you are interested in learning more about one of the oldest and richest literary traditions in the world, you should definitely check out Classical Chinese Poetry: An Anthology, a collection of over 300 poems translated by David Hinton. This book covers more than two thousand years of poetic history, from the Zhou dynasty (1046-256 BCE) to the Yuan dynasty (1271-1368 CE), and features some of the most celebrated and influential poets of all time. In this article, we will give you a brief overview of what classical Chinese poetry is, why it is important, what are its main themes and motifs, who are its most famous poets, and how you can write your own classical Chinese poetry.




Classical Chinese Poetry: An Anthology Books.pdf


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What is classical Chinese poetry?




Classical Chinese poetry is a term that refers to the poetry written in classical Chinese, a literary language that was used for centuries in China and other parts of East Asia. Classical Chinese is different from modern Chinese in many ways, such as grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation. It is also written in characters that have multiple meanings and associations, which makes it very concise and expressive.


Classical Chinese poetry has many features and genres that distinguish it from other types of poetry. Some of the most common features are:



  • The use of parallelism, which means that each line or couplet of a poem has a similar structure and meaning.



  • The use of tonal patterns, which means that each syllable of a poem has a fixed pitch (either level or oblique) that creates a musical effect.



  • The use of rhyme, which means that the final syllables of each line or couplet of a poem have the same sound.



  • The use of allusion, which means that the poet refers to or quotes from previous texts or events that are familiar to the readers.



Some of the most common genres are:



  • Shi, which means "poetry" in general, but also refers to a specific form of poetry that has a fixed number of lines (usually four or eight) and syllables (usually five or seven) per line.



  • Ci, which means "song" or "lyric", and refers to a form of poetry that is written to fit a pre-existing melody. The number and length of lines vary according to the tune, and the tone is often emotional and romantic.



  • Qu, which means "song" or "ballad", and refers to a form of poetry that is composed for musical performance. The number and length of lines are flexible, and the tone is often humorous and satirical.



Why is classical Chinese poetry important?




Classical Chinese poetry is important for many reasons. First of all, it is a major part of the cultural heritage of China and other East Asian countries, such as Japan, Korea, and Vietnam. Many people in these countries still read, recite, and appreciate classical Chinese poetry today. Classical Chinese poetry also influenced the development of other forms of literature, such as prose, drama, and fiction.


Secondly, classical Chinese poetry is a valuable source of historical and literary knowledge. It records the thoughts and feelings of people from different times and places, as well as their views on nature, society, politics, religion, philosophy, art, and more. It also reflects the diversity and creativity of the Chinese language and culture, as well as the interactions and exchanges with other cultures.


Thirdly, classical Chinese poetry is a beautiful and enjoyable form of art. It combines words, sounds, images, symbols, emotions, ideas, and more in a harmonious and elegant way. It also invites the readers to use their imagination and interpretation to appreciate its meanings and effects. Classical Chinese poetry can inspire us, move us, entertain us, enlighten us, and enrich our lives.


How to read and appreciate classical Chinese poetry?




Reading and appreciating classical Chinese poetry can be challenging but rewarding. Here are some tips and techniques that can help you:



  • Read the poem aloud or listen to its recitation. This will help you catch its rhythm, rhyme, tone, mood, and musicality.



  • Look up the meanings and pronunciations of the characters. This will help you understand the literal and figurative meanings of the words, as well as their associations and connotations.



  • Analyze the structure and style of the poem. This will help you identify its form, genre, parallelism, allusion, imagery, symbolism, and other poetic devices.



  • Learn about the context and background of the poem. This will help you understand its historical, cultural, biographical, and literary references and implications.



  • Compare different translations and interpretations of the poem. This will help you appreciate the nuances and variations of the poem, as well as its challenges and possibilities for translation.



Write your own response or commentary on the poem. This will help you express your personal feelings What are the main themes and motifs of classical Chinese poetry?




Classical Chinese poetry covers a wide range of themes and motifs that reflect the experiences and emotions of the poets and their times. Some of the most common themes and motifs are:


Nature and landscape




One of the most prominent themes in classical Chinese poetry is nature and landscape. Classical Chinese poets often used nature and landscape as a source of inspiration, a medium of expression, a symbol of meaning, and a way of life. They observed and described the natural phenomena and scenery around them, such as mountains, rivers, clouds, flowers, birds, animals, seasons, weather, and more. They also expressed their feelings and thoughts about nature and landscape, such as admiration, awe, joy, sadness, loneliness, nostalgia, meditation, enlightenment, and more. They also used nature and landscape as metaphors and allegories for their personal, social, political, and spiritual situations and aspirations.


Examples of nature poems from the anthology




Here are some examples of nature poems from different dynasties and poets:



Spring Dawn by Meng Haoran (Tang dynasty)


The spring sleep not wake dawn


Everywhere hear cry bird


Night come wind rain sound


Flower fall know how much


(Translation by David Hinton)


This poem describes the scene of a spring morning after a rainy night. The poet uses simple and concise words to convey his sense of wonder and beauty at the sight and sound of nature. He also implies his detachment and ignorance of the worldly affairs by saying that he does not know how many flowers have fallen.



Drinking Alone Beneath the Moon by Li Bai (Tang dynasty)


Among the flowers, a single jug of wine;


I drink alone. No one close to me.


I raise my cup, invite the bright moon;


facing my shadow, together we make three.


The moon doesn't know how to drink;


and my shadow can only follow my body.


But for a time I make moon and shadow my companions;


taking one's pleasure must last until spring.


I sing the moon wavers back and forth.


I dance my shadow flickers in disorder.


While sober, we share our friendship.


After drunk, each goes its way.


Let's join to roam beyond human world,


and meet again in some far Milky Way.


(Translation by Ha Poong Kim)


This poem depicts the scene of a poet drinking alone under the moonlight. The poet uses vivid and imaginative images to create a sense of loneliness and freedom. He also personifies the moon and his shadow as his friends, and invites them to join him in his merry-making. He also expresses his transcendence and aspiration to roam beyond the human world.



Cold Mountain Poems by Han Shan (Tang dynasty)


I settled at Cold Mountain long ago,


Already it seems like years and years.


Freely drifting, I prowl the woods and streams


And linger watching things themselves.


Men don't get this far into the mountains,


White clouds gather and billow.


Thin grass does for a mattress,


The blue sky makes a good quilt.


Happy with a stone underhead


Let heaven and earth go about their changes.


(Translation by Gary Snyder)


This poem describes the life of a recluse who lives in harmony with nature. The poet uses simple and direct language to convey his contentment and detachment from the worldly troubles. He also shows his appreciation and observation of nature as his only companion.


Love and friendship




Another important theme in classical Chinese poetry is love and friendship. Classical Chinese poets often wrote about their relationships and emotions with others, such as family members, friends, lovers, patrons, colleagues, and more. They also expressed their feelings and thoughts about love and friendship, such as happiness, sorrow, longing, jealousy, gratitude, loyalty, and more. They also used love and friendship as metaphors and allegories for their personal, social, political, and spiritual situations and aspirations.


Examples of love poems from the anthology




Here are some examples of love poems from different dynasties and poets:



On a Visit to Ch'ung Chen Taoist Temple I See In The South Hall The List of Successful Candidates in The Imperial Examinations by Li Ch'ing-Chao (Song dynasty)


Cloud capped peaks fill the eyes


In the spring sunshine.


Their names are written in beautiful characters


And posted in order of merit.


How I hate this silk dress


That conceals a poet.


I lift my head and read their names


In a powerless envy.


(Translation by Kenneth Rexroth)


This poem is a lament of a female poet who is envious of the male scholars who have passed the imperial examinations and achieved fame and fortune. The poet uses contrast and irony to express her frustration and resentment at the gender inequality and social injustice that prevent her from fulfilling her literary talent and ambition.



To Tan-Ch'iu by Du Fu (Tang dynasty)


My friend is lodging high in the Eastern Range,


Dearly loving the beauty of valleys and hills.


At green Spring he lies in the empty woods,


And is still asleep when the sun shines on high.


A pine-tree wind dusts his sleeves and coat;


A pebbly stream cleans his heart and ears.


I envy you, who far away from me,


Are alone and content in your mountain peace.


(Translation by Witter Bynner)


This poem is a tribute to a friend who lives in seclusion in the mountains. The poet uses descriptive and admiring language to convey his respect and appreciation for his friend's choice and lifestyle. He also expresses his longing and envy for his friend's tranquility and happiness.



The River-Merchant's Wife: A Letter by Li Bai (Tang dynasty)


While my hair was still cut straight across my forehead


I played about the front gate, pulling flowers.


You came by on bamboo stilts, playing horse,


You walked about my seat, playing with blue plums.


And we went on living in the village of Chokan:


Two small people, without dislike or suspicion.


At fourteen I married My Lord you.


I never laughed, being bashful.


Lowering my head, I looked at the wall.


Called to, a thousand times, I never looked back.


At fifteen I stopped scowling,


I desired my dust to be mingled with yours


Forever and forever and forever.


Why should I climb the look out?


At sixteen you departed,


You went into far Ku-to-en, by the river of swirling eddies,


And you have been gone five months.


The monkeys make sorrowful noise overhead.


You dragged your feet when you went out.


By the gate now, the moss is grown, the different mosses,


Too deep to clear them away!


The leaves fall early this autumn, in wind.


The paired butterflies are already yellow with August


Over the grass in the West garden;


They hurt me. I grow older.


If you are coming down through the narrows of the river Kiang,


Please let me know beforehand,


And I will come out to meet you


As far as Cho-fu-Sa.


(Translation by Ezra Pound)



This poem is a letter from a young wife to her husband who is away on business. The poet uses simple and poignant language to convey her love and loneliness. She also traces the development of their relationship from childhood to marriage to separation. She also expresses her hope and anticipation for his return.


War and politics




A third major theme in classical Chinese poetry is war and politics. Classical Chinese poets often wrote about their responses to the social and political turmoil of their times, such as wars, revolutions, corruptions, oppressions, exiles, and more. They also expressed their feelings and thoughts about war and politics, such as anger, grief, fear, courage, patriotism, criticism, protest, and more. They also used war and politics as metaphors and allegories for their personal, social, political, and spiritual situations Examples of war poems from the anthology




Here are some examples of war poems from different dynasties and poets:



Border Songs by Anonymous (Han dynasty)


The beacon fires have joined for three months now,


Family letters are worth ten thousand pieces.


I scratch my head, its white hairs growing thinner,


And barely able now to hold a hairpin.


(Translation by Burton Watson)


This poem is a lament of a soldier who is stationed at the border and separated from his family. The poet uses simple and poignant language to convey his sadness and loneliness. He also implies his aging and hardship by mentioning his white hairs and hairpin.



Spring View by Du Fu (Tang dynasty)


The nation shattered, mountains and rivers remain;


City in spring, grass and trees burgeoning.


Moved by the moment, a flower's splashed with tears;


Mourning parting, a bird startles the heart.


The beacon fires have joined for three months now,


Family letters are worth ten thousand pieces.


I scratch my head, its white hairs growing thinner,


And barely able now to hold a hairpin.


(Translation by David Hinton)


This poem is a reflection on the aftermath of a civil war that devastated the country. The poet uses contrast and irony to express his grief and despair. He also contrasts the beauty and vitality of nature with the ruin and sorrow of human affairs.



Nostalgia by Su Shi (Song dynasty)


This life is a dream


And even after many years


There is no way to wake up


How can I forget


The place where I was born


The wind blows endlessly


The river flows without rest


The autumn moon is so bright


The spring breeze is so warm


But they only bring me sadness


I wish I could go back


To my old home


And see my parents and siblings


But they are all gone


(Translation by Ha Poong Kim)



This poem is a nostalgia for his hometown and family that he lost due to political exile. The poet uses simple and emotional language to convey his longing and sorrow. He also uses nature imagery to evoke his memories and feelings.


Who are the most famous classical Chinese poets?




Classical Chinese poetry has produced many famous poets who have left a lasting legacy in the literary world. Some of the most famous classical Chinese poets are:


Li Bai




Li Bai (701-762) was one of the greatest poets of the Tang dynasty, which is considered the golden age of classical Chinese poetry. He was known for his bold and imaginative style, his mastery of various forms and genres, and his romantic and free-spirited personality. He wrote about many topics, such as nature, friendship, love, drinking, travel, war, and more. He was also famous for his association with another great poet, Du Fu, who was his friend and rival.


Examples of Li Bai's poems from the anthology




Here are some examples of Li Bai's poems from different genres and themes:



Drinking Alone Beneath the Moon by Li Bai (Tang dynasty)


Among the flowers, a single jug of wine;


I drink alone. No one close to me.


I raise my cup, invite the bright moon;


(Translation by Ha Poong Kim)



This poem is a lyric that expresses the poet's loneliness and freedom as he drinks alone under the moonlight. He uses vivid and imaginative images to create a sense of humor and transcendence. He also personifies the moon and his shadow as his friends, and invites them to join him in his merry-making.



Hard Is the Way of the World II by Li Bai (Tang dynasty)


Don't wash your ears on hearing something you dislike


Nor die of hunger like famous hermits on the Pike!


Of yore Fan Li renounced the world, a boat he rowed


(Translation by Xu Yuanchong)



This poem is a shi that advises the poet's friend to pursue fame and fortune rather than retreat from the world. He uses examples and rhetorical questions to persuade his friend to be ambitious and pragmatic. He also contrasts the natural beauty with the human reality.


Du Fu




cultural breadth. He wrote about many topics, such as nature, family, friendship, war, politics, history, and more. He was also famous for his association with Li Bai, who was his friend and rival.


Examples of Du Fu's poems from the anthology




Here are some examples of Du Fu's poems from different genres and themes:



Spring View by Du Fu (Tang dynasty)


The nation shattered, mountains and rivers remain;


City in spring, grass and trees burgeoning.


Moved by the moment, a flower's splashed with tears;


Mourning parting, a bird startles the heart.


The beacon fires have joined for three months now,


Family letters are worth ten thousand pieces.


I scratch my head, its white hairs growing thinner,


And barely able now to hold a hairpin.


(Translation by David Hinton)


This poem is a reflection on the aftermath of a civil war that devastated the country. The poet uses contrast and irony to express his grief and despair. He also contrasts the beauty and vitality of nature with the ruin and sorrow of human affairs.



My Thatched Hut Wrecked by Autumn Wind by Du Fu (Tang dynasty)


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