16 January 2014

Poetry Thursday - a poem by Liu Jixu

While I was trying to learn a bit of Mandarin, I carried this poem around to try to memorise it. Now I look from English to the pinyin words and the characters and marvel at what is involved in translation.

It's from a book called 300 Tang Poems, published in 1920 and available on the University of Virginia website. The Tang period (618-907) is considered the golden age of Chinese literature, and the poems in the book were compiled around 1763, during the Qing dynasty, by Sun Zhu. The collection represented the classical forms and the best Tang poets. The compilers of the web version say: "It has been used for centuries since to teach elementary students to read and write, and also in cultivating character. Sun's collection is still a classic today, its popularity undiminished. Nearly every Chinese household owns a copy of Tang Shi and poems from it are still included in textbooks and to be memorized by students. We would like to make this World Wide Web version of the poems as a testimony to its compiler's intent : "Learning Tang poems three hundred by heart, you can chant poems though you know not the art .""

The poem is available to listen to, and it's quite an experience, more singing than reciting. The poem itself starts after the soft-voiced introduction, and it's all over in less than a minute. The poem is rendered in the Hokkien dialect.

Liu Jixu has only this one poem in the anthology, and seems to exist just as a name. I'd like to tell you about Chinese poetry in general, but know next to nothing, just that it's very different from English poetry -- as you might expect!
Tang dynasty dancers (via)
Tang dynastry poetry, says the Wikipedia article on Classical Chinese poetry, "was both a pervasive social phenomenon throughout the Tang literate classes, which the ability to compose poems on demand part of the Imperial examination system, but also a social grace necessary for polite conduct on social occasions, such as seeing a friend off on a long assignment to a distant post or as part of the interaction at banquets or social gatherings. Some 50,000 poems survive. Their popularity in the historical Chinese cultural area has varied over time, with certain authors coming in and out of favor, others permanently obscure, and some, such as Wang WeiDu Fu, andBai Juyi (also, known as "Po Chü-i") maintaining consistent popularity. Tang poetry has since developed an on-going influence on world literature and modern and quasi-modern poetry; for instance, as in the case of Li Bai (also known as Li Po) whose modern influence extends as far as Gustav Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde and Beat poetry.

As an aside, but still on the Chinese theme - the V&A's exhibition of Masterpieces of Chinese painting 700-1900 is in its last week; check out the website for an animation that starts with the "dragon scroll" -
From "Nine Dragons" by Chen Rong, 1189-1268
I saw the show last week and also loved the scroll "Flowers on a river" by Bada Shanren, "an epic expressionist masterpiece" painted in 1697 when he was aged 72, which is available as a print, but seems "all wrong" in this format, too small (about half as high as the original) and of course not continuous -
You can read a lengthy review of the show, with many images, including of parts of the scroll, at gerryco23.wordpress.com.

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