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  Wikipedia: Chinese poetry

Wikipedia: Chinese poetry
Chinese poetry
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Shi (詩 py shi1) is the Chinese term for poem.
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Early Poetry

Book of Songs

Main article: Shi Jing

Songs of Chu

A second early and influential poetic anthology was the Chuci (Songs of Chu), made up primarily of poems ascribed to the semilegendary Qu Yuan (ca. 340-278 B.C) and his follower Song Yu (fourth century B.C.). The songs in this collection are more lyrical and romantic and represent a different tradition from the earlier Classic of Poetry (Shi Jing).

Classical Poetry

Fu

During the Han dynasty (206 B.C-A.D. 220), the Chu lyrics evolved into the fu, a poem usually in rhymed verse except for introductory and concluding passages that are in prose, often in the form of questions and answers.

Yue Fu

From the Han dynasty onwards, a process similar to the origins of the Shijing produced the yue fu poems. Again, these are song lyrics, composed in a folk-song style. The lines are of uneven length, though five characters is the most common. Each poem follows one of a series of patterns defined by the song title. The term covers original folk songs, court imitations and versions by known poets (the best known of the latter being those of Li Bai).

Shi

From the second century AD, the yue fu began to develop into shi, or classical poetry- the form which was to dominate Chinese poetry until the modern era. The writers of these poems took the five character line of the yue fu and used it to express more complex ideas. The shi poem was generally an expression of the poet’s own persona rather than the adopted characters of the yue fu; many were romantic nature poems heavily influenced by Taoism. A later variant, the seven-character line, expanded the possibilities of the form yet further. In each case, there is a caesura before the last three characters of each line, producing groupings of two and three or four and three characters respectively.

Gushi

The term gushi (“old poems”) can refer either to the first, mostly anonymous shi poems, or more generally to the poems written in the same form by later poets. Gushi in this latter sense are defined essentially by what they are not: i.e., they are not jintishi (regulated verse). The writer of gushi was under no formal constraints other than line length and rhyme (in every second line). The form was therefore favoured for narrative works and by writers seeking a relaxed or imaginative style; Li Bai is the most prominent of these, but most major poets wrote significant gushi.

Jintishi

Jintishi, or regulated verse, developed from the fifth century onwards. By the Tang dynasty, a series of set tonal patterns had been developed, which were intended to ensure a balance between the four tones of classical Chinese: the level tone, and the three deflected tones (rising, falling and entering). In practice, however, these rules were not strictly followed in all cases. The Tang dynasty was the high point of the jintishi’s development, and Du Fu was its most accomplished exponent.

The basic form of jintishi was the lǜshi (律詩), with eight lines. In addition to the tonal constraints, this form required parallelism between the lines in the second and third couplets. The lines had to contain contrasting content, while the words in each line had to have the same grammatical relationship.

The other possible forms were the jueju or quatrain (絕詩), which followed the tonal pattern of the first four line of the lǜshi; and the pailǜ, which was unlimited in length.

All forms of jintishi could be written in five or seven character lines.

Ci

Towards the end of the Tang dynasty, a new form emerged: the ci. The ci followed the tradition of the Book of Songs and the yue fu: they were lyrics which developed from anonymous popular songs (some of Central Asian origin) into a sophisticated literary genre, but one which continued mainly to express feelings of desire, often in an adopted persona.

Ci were irregular in line length, but followed rhyme and tonal patterns determined by the tune to which they were set. The form was most fully developed in the Song dynasty; Su Shi was its greatest practitioner.

Qu

As the ci gradually became more literary and artificial after Song times, the san qu, a freer form, based on new popular songs, developed. The use of san qu songs in drama marked an important step in the development of vernacular literature.

Later Classical Poetry

After the Song dynasty, both shi poems and lyrics continued to be composed until the end of end of the imperial period, and to a lesser extent to this day. However, for a number of reasons, these works have always been less highly regarded than those of the Tang dynasty in particular. Firstly, Chinese literary culture remained in awe of its predecessors: in a self-fulfilling prophecy, writers and readers both expected that new works would not bear comparison with the earlier masters. Secondly, the most common response of these later poets to the tradition which they had inherited was to produce work which was ever more refined and allusive; the resulting poems tend to seem precious or just obscure to modern readers. Thirdly, the increase in population, expansion of literacy, wider dissemination of works through printing and more complete archiving vastly increased the volume of work to consider and made it difficult to identify and properly evaluate those good pieces which were produced. Finally, this period saw the rise of vernacular literature, particularly drama and novels, which increasingly became the main means of cultural expression.

Modern Poetry

Modern Chinese poems (新詩 vers libre) usually do not follow any prescribed pattern.

Further reading

Reference:

See also:

Chinese poetry in translations:


  

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