The Birth of China Seen Through Poetry

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Now softly, now slowly, her plec-. And then, like the torrent, stilled by the grip of frost, so for a moment was the music lulled, in a passion too deep for sound. Then, as bursts the water from the broken vase, as clash the arms upon the mailed horse- man, so fell the plectrum once more upon the strings with a slash like the rent of silk. The autumn moon shone silver athwart the tide, as with a sigh the musician thrust her plectrum beneath the strings and quietly prepared to take leave.

At thirteen, I learnt the guitar, and my name was enrolled among the primas of the day. Golden ornaments and silver pins were smashed, blood-red skirts of silk were stained with wine, in oft-times echoing applause. And so I laughed on from year to year, while the spring breeze and autumn moon swept over my careless head. So I took a husband and became a trader's wife. He was.

Last month he went off to buy tea, and I remained behind, to wander in my lonely boat on moon-lit nights over the cold wave, thinking of the happy days gone by, my reddened eyes telling of tearful dreams. Last year I quitted the Imperial city, and fever - stricken reached this spot, where in its desolation, from year's end to year's end, no flute or guitar is heard. I live by the marshy river-bank, surrounded by yellow reeds and stunted bamboos.

A Hundred and Seventy Chinese Poems, by Arthur Waley--The Project Gutenberg eBook.

Day and night no sounds reach my ears save the blood-stained note of the nightjar, the gibbon's mournful wail. Hill songs I have, and village pipes with their harsh discordant twang. But now that I listen to thy lute's discourse, methinks 'tis the music of the gods. Prithee sit down awhile and sing to us yet again, while I commit thy story to writing. Perhaps the best known of all the works of Po Chii-i is a narrative poem of some length entitled "The Everlast- ing Wrong.

At his accession to the throne in , he was called upon to face an attempt. He began with economy, closing the silk factories and forbidding the palace ladies to wear jewels or embroideries, con- siderable quantities of which were actually burnt. Until the country was fairly prosperous.

The administra- tion was improved, the empire was divided into fifteen provinces, and schools were established in every village. The Emperor was a patron of literature, and himself a poet of no mean capacity. He published an edition of the Classic of Filial Piety, and caused the text to be en- graved on four tablets of stone, A. His love of war, however, and his growing extravagance, led to in- creased taxation.

Vanilla beauty and the immortal Phoenix: exploring the poetry of Chu in China

Fond of music, he founded a college for training youth of both sexes in this art. He sur- rounded himself by a brilliant Court, welcoming such men as the poet Li Po, at first for their talents alone, but afterwards for their readiness to participate in scenes of revelry and dissipation provided for the amusement of the Imperial concubine, the ever-famous Yang Kuei- fei.

Eunuchs were appointed to official posts, and the grossest forms of religious superstition were encouraged. Women ceased to veil themselves as of old.


His Imperial Majesty, a slave to beauty,. The allusion is to ornaments on the roof. A Taoist priest of Lin-cKung,. A precocious and short-lived poet was Li Ho, of the ninth century.

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He began to write verses at the age of seven. Twenty years later he met a strange man riding on a hornless dragon, who said to him, " God Almighty has finished his Jade Pavilion, and has sent for you to be his secretary. He was on terms of close friendship with Han Yii, and like him, too, a vigorous opponent of both Buddhism and Taoism.

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And I, seeing that Love thy heart possessed, I wrapped them coldly in my silken vest. Many more poets of varying shades of excellence must here be set aside, their efforts often brightened by those quaint conceits which are so dear to the Chinese reader, but which approach so perilously near to bathos when they appear in foreign garb.


A few specimens, torn from their setting, may perhaps have an interest of their own. A popular poet of the ninth century was Li SH, especially well known for the story of his capture by highwaymen. Re- turning to Court in , he accidentally dropped part of his official insignia at an audience, an unpardonable breach of Court etiquette, and was allowed to retire once more to the hills, where he ultimately starved him- self to death through grief at the murder of the youthful Emperor.

He is commonly known as the Last of the Tangs; his poetry, which is excessively difficult to under- stand, ranking correspondingly high in the estimation of Chinese critics. The following philosophical poem, con- sisting of twenty-four apparently unconnected stanzas, is admirably adapted to exhibit the form under which pure Taoism commends itself to the mind of a cultivated scholar:.

Eagerly I press forward As the reality grows upon me. The sun sinking through pure air, I take off my cap and stroll alone, Listening to the song of birds. M A jade kettle with a purchase of spring? A shower on the thatched hut Wherein sits a gentle scholar. With tall bamboos growing right and left, And white clouds in the newly-clear sky, And birds flitting in the depths of trees. Then pillowed on his lute in the green shade, A waterfall tumbling overhead, Leaves dropping, not a word spoken, The man placid, like a chrysanthemum, Noting down the flower-glory of the season, A book well worthy to be read.

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Like a clear pool in spring, With its wondrous mirrored shapes, So make for the spotless and true, A nd, riding the moonbeam, revert to the Spiritual. Let your gaze be upon the stars of heaven? Like flowing water is our to-day, Our yesterday, the bright moon. Seek to be full of these, And hold fast to them alway. M If the mind has wealth and rank, One may make light of yellow gold.

Rich pleasures pall ere long, Simple joys deepen ever. A mist-cloud hanging on the river bank, Pink almond-flowers along the bough, A flower-girt cottage beneath the moon, A painted bridge half seen in shadow, A golden goblet brimming with wine, A friend with his hand on the lute.

Take these and be content; They will swell thy heart beneath thy robe? M Stoop, and there it is; Seek it not right and left. All roads lead thither, One touch and you have spring!

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  4. If words do not affect the speaker, They seem inadequate to sorrow? Herein is the First Cause, With which we sink or rise, As wine in the strainer mounts high, As cold turns back the season of flowers. The wide-spreading dust-motes in the air, The sudden spray-bubbles of ocean, Shallow, deep, collected, scattered, You grasp ten thousand, and secure one! W ater flowing, flowers budding, The limpid dew evaporating, An important road, stretching far, A dark path where progress is slow.

    Then, if happiness is ours, Why must there be action? With the stream eddying below, A clear sky and a snow-clad bank, Fishing-boats in the reach beyond. And she, like unto jade,. Slowly sauntering, as I follow through the dark wood, Now moving on, now stopping short, Far away to the deep valley. Beside the winding brook, Beneath dark pine-tree? And so, where my fancy led me t Better than if I had sought it, I heard the music of 'heaven, Astounded by its rare strains? A hundred years slip by like water, Riches and rank are but cold ashes, TAG is daily passing away, To whom shall we turn for salvation?

    The brave soldier draws his sword, And tears flow with endless lamentation; The wind whistles, leaves fall, And rain trickles through the old thatch". To obtain likeness without form, Is not that to possess the man f ". Afar, it seems at hand, Approach, 'tis no longer there j. In the portrait of the hero The old fire still lingers; The leaf carried by the wind Floats on the boundless sea.

    It would seem as though not to be grasped, But always on the point of being disclosed. With China's increasing importance on the world stage today, many readers, no doubt, would want to learn more about its ancient culture. However, to learn about a culture from its history alone, especially one as long as that of China, is time-consuming and requires a historian's expert skill.

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    This book offers the general reader a direct glimpse into the human core of it via the universally accessible channel of poetry. It provides an outline of Chinese history from prehistoric times to the present printed mostly on left-hand pages, accompanied on the right by a selection of Chinese poems of the corresponding periods translated into English verse by the author.

    On all sides fallen leaves go rustling, rustling, While ceaseless river waves come rippling, rippling:. In sharp contrast stands Du Fu—a man whose life was marked by great hardship and petty failures. The son of a minor official, his dreams of government employment were disappointed by his inability to pass the civil service exam Li Bai never bothered to take it.

    Professional failures and periods of penury, however, soon turned his poetry toward more melancholy subjects, a change exacerbated by the An Lushan Rebellion , which toppled the regime and ravaged the country from to Whereas Li Bai managed to always be in the services, or good graces, of powerful patrons, Du Fu was arrested twice once by each rival faction , escaping the first by disguising himself, and being forced into exile after the second.