Thursday, December 14, 2017

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The Book of Poems

The Book of Poems, Shi Jing ( 诗经 )

The Ancient Chinese Book of Poems
The Ancient Chinese Book of Poems

Shi Jing ( 诗经 ) or The Book of Poems is one of the most significant headstreams of Chinese Literature. Complied over a period of almost 500 years from the Zhou Dynasty to the mid-Spring and Autumn Period, it contains 305 poems and was part of the Confucius’s curriculum in his time.

 
All the poems were originally sung with instrumental accompaniment, hence they can also be known as a song. The poems included in The Book of Poems are classified into 3 categories below

  1. Feng () - 160 folk songs collected from 15 regions in the country;
  1. Ya () – 105 aesthetic songs, of which 71 are songs for entertainment at informal dinners and 34 are for official banquets;
  1. Song () - The remaining 40 songs were meant for religious ceremonies and sacrificial rites and were sung at dances.
Feng () represents local music sung by the common folks from the different states and is more passionate and soul stirring. Ya () were advices sung into a poem format meant for officials to make implicit remonstrance or to praise the greatness of the king and are solemn and over-elaborate. Song () are accompanied by dancing to slow tempo music and mainly used for sacrificial ceremonies.

 
The first poem of The Book of Poems, Crying Ospreys, is about love and is among the most well-known love poem in Chinese Literature.

 
关关雎鸠,
在河之洲,
窈窕淑女,
君子好求
 

The Jujiu sing in unison,
Forming an islet in the stream,
Graceful and virtuous is the girl,
An ideal wife for the gentlemen.
(Translated by www.eChinaExpat.com)

Jujiu in the The Ancient Chinese Book of Poems
Jujiu in the Chinese Book of Poems

The poem expresses the poet’s longing for a good female companion. The Jujiu is a type of very faithful bird. If one of a couple dies, the other will starve itself to death. This poem is sung to extol the virtues of the Queen Consort of the Zhou King and was later included in Confucius’s curriculum to demand women to be faithful to their husbands.

The poems were well written and concise with the economy of words being typical of old Chinese writings. Unfortunately, the musical notes have long been lost.

 
Traditional Chinese poetry and music are separately intertwined. Chinese poems are essentially lyrics. The number of words per line as well as the rhythm and intonation are all strictly prescribed.

Coptright @ www.eChinaExpat.com

 
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