Chinese Ancient Poems
The greatest Chinese poetry was created during the Tang Dynasty.
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The most important poetic work produced During the classical period was the Shi Jing (Shih Ching, Book of songs), an anthology of Ancient poems written in four-word verses and composed mostly between the 10th and the 7th centuries BC. These Poems mark the beginning of the vernacular Tradition in Chinese poetry and are characterized by simplicity of language and emotion.
These songs and Poems give a colorful picture of the life and manners of the Chinese feudal nobility, just as the folk Poems depict the simple and yet bountiful life of the peasantry. The court Poems were originally sung to music and accompanied by dance; Chinese poetry and music were closely linked from earliest times.
During the 400 years of the Han dynasty (206BC-AD220) the romantic and realistic modes developed into schools of poetry with many followers. The verses of Qu, which were irregular in form, initiated a new literary genre, the fu, or prose poem.
During periods of social and political upheaval, from the 3rd to the 7th century, poets found refuge and consolation in nature. Some were hermits who created a so-called field-and-garden school of poetry; others produced some of the best Chinese folk lyrics.
The greatest Chinese poetry was created During the Tang (Tang) dynasty (618-907), a period of general peace and prosperity ending in a decline. Despite the passage of more than ten centuries, as many as 49,000 Tang Poems by 2200 poets have survived. The three most famous poets were Wang Wei, Li Bai (Li Po), and Du Fu (Tu Fu).
Rhyme had always been an essential part of Chinese poetry, but verse forms did not become well established until the Tang poets. The typical poem of the Tang period was in the so-called shi form, characterized by the five-word or seven-word line, with the rhyme usually falling on the even lines. The shi verse form evolved from the four-word verse of the Shi Jing.
The Tang period also produced a new poetic form called the ci (tz'u). Although each ci may have lines of varying length, the number of lines, as well as their length, is fixed according to a definite rhyming and tonal pattern. The writing of ci, which is somewhat analogous to putting new words to popular melodies, requires a great deal of skill. The melodies employed were usually of foreign origin.
During the Song (Sung) dynasty (960-1279) the ci reached its greatest popularity. Initially the trend was toward longer ci, written to be sung to popular tunes and commonly dealing with themes of love, courtesans, or music. Su Dongpo (Su Tung-po,), the best-known ci poet of China, liberated the ci from the rigid forms that music had imposed on it and introduced more virile subjects. In the 11th century more and more nonmusical ci were written, that is, ci written with no intention that they would be sung. In the late 11th to the 13th century, however, the Tradition of writing musical ci was revived. The great Chinese poet Li Qingzhao (Li Ch'ing-chao) is renowned for ci concerning her widowhood.
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