Traditional Chinese Poetry is very similar to Western poetry. Lines in Chinese poetry may have a fixed number of syllables and rhyme was required, so ancient Chinese poetry resembles traditional English verse and is not at all like the free verse in today’s Western culture.
Modern Chinese poets have written in free verse, but many still write with a strict form.
In the end, the form is not as important as what the poem says. Western poetry often focuses on love while painting an image of the poet as a lover.
Influenced by Confucius and Taoism, the ancient Chinese poet shows he or she is a friend—not a lover and often paints a picture of a poet’s life as a life of leisure without ambitions beyond writing poetry and having a good time.
According to legend, this Chinese poet killed himself to protest the corruption of the time, and it is said that the Dragon Boat Festival was named to honor his sacrifice.
By Qu Yuan (332-295 B.C.)
We grasp our battle-spears: we don our breastplates of hide.
The axles of our chariots touch: our short swords meet.
Standards obscure the sun: the foe roll up like clouds.
Arrows fall thick: the warriors press forward.
They menace our ranks: they break our line.
The left-hand trace-horse is dead: the one on the right
The fallen horses block our wheels: they impede the
Translated by Arthur Waley 1919
Note: The translation process from Mandarin to English would insure that the fixed number of syllables and rhyme required of a traditional Chinese poem in its original language would not survive, but the contextual meaning should.
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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.
His latest novel is the multiple-award winning Running with the Enemy.
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