The Private and Passionate Poetry of China

November 19, 2014

The Golden Age of Poetry in China was during the Tang Dynasty (618-906 AD).  One book of Chinese Love Poetry edited by Jane Portal (© 2004) was published by Barnes & Noble Books (ISBN 0-7607-4833-0).

I’m sure that most people outside of China don’t think of love poems when they think of China. However, there has to be a reason for more than 1.3 billion people, other than the Great Wall of China, the Pacific Ocean and the biggest mountain range on the planet, the Himalayas, which helped shelter China from some of the violence that rocked the rest of the world for centuries—at least until the Opium Wars.

For poetry lovers, Chinese Love Poetry imparts a sense of the private passion that beats in the Chinese heart. The three arts of poetry, calligraphy and painting, the Triple Excellence, are represented on the pages.

The following painting, lady weeping at parting from husband, 17th century, comes from the Qing Dynasty and the book says it is a color woodblock print on paper.

Chinese poetry is frequently personal and often linked to a particular occasion (page 9).

Deeply in love, but tonight
we seem to be passionless;
I just feel, before our last cup of wine
a smile will not come.
The wax candle has sympathy ­­–
weeps at our separation:
Its tears for us keep rolling down
till day breaks.

by Du Mu (803-852 AD)

As you can see, the Chinese are a passionate people—they just don’t dramatize these passions publicly as many Westerners do—at least until the West invaded China to force—if possible—a different set of values on China’s collective culture.

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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.

Low-Res_E-book_cover_MSC_July_24_2013

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The History of Chinese Poetry

October 2, 2013

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.

Battle
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
is smitten.
The fallen horses block our wheels: they impede the
yoke-horses?”

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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