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I have gone out of the way merely to make trouble, I am afraid. Let us return to poetic patterns. The poems I have cited happen to be all in seven-syllable lines. Code verse in five-syllable lines is just as common. The long code verse (chang lu), which induces sleep or nausea according to the constitution of the reader, is practically always in five-syllable lines. So also is the shi tie shi (shih t'ieh shih), the examination paper poems of the more recent centuries. I shall spare you the five-syllable lines. So also is the shi tie shi drudgery.
Nevertheless, we cannot leave this topic of code verse without mentioning how in certain exclusive literary circles it still remains whimsically popular because it serves as a presumptuous pastime. Some of us play chess, others match intelligence with parallel couplets. Some collect odd coins or stamps, others hunt for lines from diverse sources which happen to pair. Playing with verses takes on many forms. The most naive kind is what we call pairing pairs, dui dui zi (tueh-tueh-tsu). For instance, one begins with the character "Wind" and his companion answers "Rain". "Sudden rain," he goes one better. "Crazy wind", his opponent harks right back. "Crazy wind arose", "Sudden rain comes". "Last night crazy wind arose", "This morning sudden rain comes". "Zuo ye kuang feng qi, jin zhao bao yu lai" — a parallel couplet perfect in tonal arrangement and in the balance of subject-matter. The most sophisticated pair-pairer often tries to catch you with a couplet which appears to the eye exactly balanced, character for character, but which has not got any sense to it. I will recite a modernistic one for you: "May is the month when plums become yellow". Answer, "Three Star Brandy". How silly! The Chinese transliteration for brandy is bai lan di (pai-lan-ti), the characters meaning White-orchid-earth. So this is how the couplet appears in the original:
Another form of playing with couplets is matching verses, which used to be a favorite game of aristocratic ladies and courtesans. An occasion comes when celebrities gather at a banquet. Lady A gives the first line offhand. Miss B takes it up and in a second line sets the rhyme for the whole. Continuing the conventional tonal order she also gives a third line. The real difficulty begins with Mrs. C who has to answer Miss B with correct rhyme and tonal order and at the same time some semblance of meaningful material which must be parallel to the third line and bear upon the theme. Then twisting around the tonal pattern she springs a still more difficult one on D etc. At last the circle is completed and poor Lady A who started this much ado about nothing in a care-free way has now to bring it to a happy ending. In the famous novel A Dream of the Red Chamber, the author actually exhausted the rhyme book. He must have become as thoroughly nauseated as his reader does. The humor of it was that he made the oldest and most wicked woman of that imaginary coterie start the circuit to be later consummated by herself in complete inanity.
I may describe for you yet a third form of the same atrocious game. Your friend is having a birthday party, or is about to be married, or has recently gone home to Elysium. It is your duty to send him a pair of scrolls bearing a couplet. If you are newly rich, you buy that couplet together with the paper or silk scrolls. If you are a Bachelor or Master of Arts, you compose it yourself. But if you are really cultured, you collect your lines from the Tang and Song Dynasty relics, one from Li Shang Yin perhaps, the other from Su Shi (Su Shih). The astute Li Hong Zhang (Li Hung Chang) was Chinese minister to London when Queen Victoria celebrated her sixtieth birthday. He presented her with what we Chinese would deem the most precious of gifts, a pair of collected verses.
The legend of the West-Queen-Mother centers around a non-indigenous fairy goddess. The second line refers to a Taoist legend. Lao Zi (Lao-tsu), the founder of Taoism, was travelling from what was then China Proper to the west. He went beyond the Han Gu Pass when purple clouds closed him in and he became lost to mortal eyes. Remember, Lao Zi was known by the same family name as our crafty minister. Had Queen Victoria understood but half of the pretty things that were said in this couplet, all England would have sat in ashes on account of her China wars.
You can now imagine why the code verse appeals to the Chinese man of leisure. We shall leave it in his hands and pass on to freer expressions. There are two other forms of poetry perhaps even more popular than the code verse which have given birth to what we are proud to call the poetry of the Chinese people. The first is the gu ti (ku t'i), old style, or gu shi (ku shih), old poetry. It is old, as compared with the modern styles of the Tang Dynasty which include the code verse. According to some historians, the name is misleading. It differs from the code verse in that it drops the parallelism entirely except where the poet purposely reintroduces it to enhance a particular mood.
In a long poem of the old style the rhymes can be changed almost at any place, as a rule from even to inflected tones or vice versa. Much more liberty can be taken with the tonal order within a line. In fact, the sequences between the even and the inflected may here be governed by individual temperament. Poems in this style can be in five, six, or seven-syllable lines or Chang-duan-ju (ch'ang-tuan-chi), i.e., long and short verses, your free verse but with rhymes.
I shall read you three examples from Tao Qian's (T'ao Ch'ien); five-syllable lines in the old style. Tao who lived in the fourth and fifth centuries A.D., was our poet of nature par excellence. Once he served as a district magistrate. When he could no longer stand the ordeal of formality, he burst out upon the occasion of the arrival of the provincial inspector, his superior, "I cannot bow to a mean fellow from the street just for five pecks of rice." So saying, he left his official hat hanging on the wall and went right home. I am almost afraid to touch Tao Qian. His simplicity troubles me. I fear I should fail to make you appreciate his greatness even if I could introduce him to you in Chinese. He is very easy to read. Someday you will read him yourself. I can tell you something about him.
* This word is used because the idea of the human voice is included in the Chinese word Xuan (hsuan).
** Cf. Waley, 170 Chinese Poems, p 76.
* In the above translations the metric form is entirely lost. The second verse reads like this in the original:
Zhong dou Nan Shan xia
Cao sheng dou miao xi
(Chung tou Nan-Shan hsia)
(Tsao sheng tou miao hsi)
Chen xing li huang hui
Dai yue he chu gui
(Ch'en hsing li huang huei) (i)
(Tai yueh ho ch'u kuei) (i)
Dao xia cao mil chang
Xi lu zhan wo yi
(Dao hsia tsao mu ch'ang)
(Hsi lu chan wuo-i)
Yi zhan bu zu xi
Dan shi yuan wu wei
(Yi chan pu tsu hsi)
(Tan shih yuan wu wei) (i)
(ei pronounced like i)
Tao Qian never could afford enough wine. As a petty official his salary was five pecks of rice. Now he had but a few handfuls of beans. His fame as a drunkard must have been very much exaggerated. In the third poem quoted above, it was Tao's ghost talking. That must have been a sober ghost. The driving force for most of his poems seems to me to be more like hunger than the thirst for home brew.
Then he goes on to tell us about the jovial conversation and how the wine pitcher was passed around and refilled, utterly forgetting what he was there for. Amazing inconsistency!
Next to wine Tao loves the chrysanthemums, the scrawny little white and yellow ones, not the gorgeous monstrosities we have developed these later days. He loves the willow trees also. He has five of them in his little yard. He loves the poor farmers, being one of them. So in his characteristic, facile, homely way of handling the old style he writes about them all. The most trivial incidents of family life find places in his poetry. His twin sons cannot recognize correctly "six" and "seven". And his baby, who is really eight years old, has no other interest in life except going around the countryside picking wild pears and chestnuts. "Tian yun gou ru ci, qie jin bei zhong wu" , "If such be fate, I might just as well finish what is in the cup".*
* Cf. Waley, 170 Chinese Poems, p.76.
Tao's poems are mostly poems of impression and of nature mysticism. With the advent of the Tang Dynasty the same plastic old style was made the vehicle of a new literary movement. One of our contemporary critics writes at great length to tell us about the difference between "poetry for nothing" and "poetry for something". That something is satire, instruction, prophecy, propaganda, social philosophy. During the Tang Dynasty it became almost a tradition for poems of that type to be written in the old style. Du Fu and later Bai Ju Yi (Pai Chu I) may be mentioned as the chief protagonists. These men moved around the country and saw poverty, injustice, heavy taxation, as well as the pomp and splendor of the nobility.
Du Fu told us of the military police intent upon seizing a young man for conscript service but failing to find him i home, they took his aged mother instead. The broken-armed old man in one of Bai Ju Yi's poems disabled himself to avoid the draft.
I meant to describe poetic patterns, not literary movements. Furthermore you have had too much of prophetic literature yourselves, your slum poems, poems of the social democracy. My translations will not interest you. Let us pass on.
I have already referred to a third form of poetry besides the code verse and the old style. I mean the jue ju (chueh chu), the curtailed or frustrated verse, the verse that makes one stand at the edge of a sudden precipice. A jue ju has only four lines of five or seven syllables each. The patterns may be represented as follows:
The above are both Tang Dynasty pieces. In the first, a dangerous woman is talking.
Heng Tang was a romantic corner in Suzhou (Soochow) at that time, the poets' center. It happened that the second poem was also written near Heng Tang, but what a contrast in mood is there! Nearby Heng Tang is a temple, Han Shan Si or Cold Hill Temple. And there is a bridge by the name of Maple Bridge. If you go to Suzhou, you can still see those places after all these eleven centuries. The poet refers to Suzhou as Gu Su, reminding us of the legendary beauty of the Kingdom of Wu. He was a traveler. He was lying awake in a little house boat near the Maple Bridge.
Notice how the poet projects his sadness, he faces it—a remarkable instance of what one of your critics has called the pathetic fallacy. This poem of twenty-eight syllables has brought thousands upon thousands of pilgrims to that dingy little temple. You may, like myself, pay ten cents' admission to see the restored bell. There is nothing to it. But one frosty moon-light night I was coming back to the city of Suzhou from the hills. No dangerous woman was there but only the temple. The truth of the poem came home to me.
I shall discuss the jue ju in another lecture. In passing, I only ask you to remember, that the jue ju does not mean to tell a story but to create a mood. That it does in the most frugal way imaginable, and with a high tone, as we say. The impression one gets is much like that from a symphony orchestra where a solo instrument takes up the theme. It may be the flute or the harp, it may also be the violoncello. The tempo may be prestissimo, the tempo may be largo.
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