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Let us now pass on to more elaborate song structure. The following are hunting songs.


(The third stanza is omitted, as it seems to the translator to have originally belonged somewhere else.)




In the first poem a common farmer went hunting; in the second, the brother of the Earl of Cheng. The former hunted with a harpoon and brought home a duck. The Earl's brother rode a chariot of four steeds, two inner and two outer, and caught a tiger. The joy of the common people we find in both poems.

The next and last selection I have rendered into colloquial English as best as I could so as to represent what an uneducated, perhaps illiterate, woman of those days might have said. She tells us of the courtship, the elopement, the pretense of marriage afterwards, then the divorce and the eternal cursing. This drama has been restaged a million times over. Confucius or no Confucius.


*  A bolt of cloth or, according to some commentators, coins.






*  Girlhood.

In leaving the Book of Odes, let me again remind you that I have not given the above examples in any historical or logical order. My purpose I stated at the beginning. I tried to present first, the different song patterns, and second, a fair sample of the subject-matter of those songs. Simplicity is the main quality. Those of you who happen to have been impressed with the officious solemnity of our old commentators and therefore, cannot stand my travesty, I refer to James Legge's complete translations which are very scholarly indeed according to the now obsolete moralistic standards. I do not approach the Book of Odes with that spirit or intention.

With the passing of the Odes, folk poetry became almost extinct so far as literary records are concerned. Twenty-five centuries of enforced silence except for an occasional cough or sneeze - thus we succeeded in maintaining order and discipline in the literary world. The literati lived primarily for their fellow literati and for the court. They forgot that their craft, their trade, and the main supply of their raw material originally came from a very plebeian source. Now that our literary ideals have been renovated, we are resolved to return to folk poetry. As an explicit self-conscious attempt this new emphasis Is hardly twenty years old. For the intervening centuries the genius of the common people has spoken to us only indirectly. We hear their voice distorted by the literati.

It has been fortunate for us that, as I mentioned in my last lecture, the forms of our literary poetry were mainly patterned after the folk songs and the shorter ballads. This intimate relationship between folk poetry and the later poetic forms can be clearly noticed in the so-called Poems of the Royal Academies of Music, Yue Fu Shi. Folk melodies were adopted. Some of the original poems must have been taken over from the country folks with only slight retouches, if any. A few examples from the academy poems previous to the Tang Dynasty may be illustrative:


South of the River we gather lotus is the theme of a musical academy song of the Han Dynasty. Under that title many new songs were composed and new motifs introduced, but the poems always begin with Jiang nan ke cai lian or some variation of it. Emperors and austere ministers of state wrote Jiang nan ke cai lian, as well as literary men. The original pattern we have here with us. The chorus is not rhymed. From the structure of the poem I rather imagine it was sung to accompany a country dance or some form of mimetic play.

The Han Dynasty and the immediately succeeding periods have left us with many academy pieces of similar motifs as the above. A very popular one is Zhan Cheng Nan which begins in this fashion:

Another theme, much used even as late as the Tang Dynasty in the Midnight Song, Zi Ye Ge. The melody originated with a woman by the most unconventional name of Midnight. Hundreds of songs were written to that tune. Some of them form quartets which have acquired the name Midnight Song of the Four Seasons. In spring the girl would sing her spring song:

Then came summer and autumn. By winter she became desperate.

Li Bai also wrote a Midnight Song of the Four Seasons. The melody might have changed by his time or possibly he was drunk as usual and slipped in two extra lines. Then, as now, a native of Shantung was perhaps not supposed to be well versed in the soft melodies of Suzhou. The Songs of the Seasons or of the Months continue to be very common topics for the girls of the Suzhou district, even to the present day. The tunes are of more recent origin.

I shall give yet another example of those folk melodies, the mythical Hua Shan Ji. According to the book, Melodies Ancient and Modern, the theme originated in some such fashion as this: Hua Shan Ji is a variation of the old tune Chagrined. Way back in the fifth century a student of the District of South Xu once travelled from Hua Shan Ji to Yun Yang. While stopping over at a tavern he fell in love with a girl eighteen or nineteen years old. Too timid to approach her, he became sick when he returned home. The mother learned the cause of his trouble. So she took a trip to Hua Shan Ji, located the girl and told her of the predicament. The girl took off one of her garters, and told the mother to slip that quietly underneath his mat. A few days later the student recovered but woe unto him for he discovered the garter! He swallowed it and died thereof. Just before he breathed his last, he said to his mother. "When you bury me, let the funeral procession pass by Hua Shan Ji." The coffin was carried in an ox cart. Upon reaching the girl's door the animal refused to take another step. So the girl said, "Wait a minute." She dressed her hair and took a bath. Then she came out singing.

The coffin opened at once and the girl slipped in.

Hua Shan Ji also has its variations. The wording is mostly silly and sentimental.


But there are also subtle passages like the following:

If we had the time, I would like to tell you something about the ballad poetry of those days. The true ballad in five-syllable lines made its first appearance late in the Han Dynasty. The characteristic feature, I may point out in this connection, is that the country bard made a distinctive attempt to pattern his verses after the folk song. Take, for instance, the two most time-honored ballads, Kongque Dong-nan Fei and Mu-lan. The former begins with a couplet:

Then all of a sudden the story of Jiao Zhong Qing and his devoted wife is introduced. The peacock and the title of the ballad seem to be totally irrelevant to the subject-matter of the story. The poem is next drawn to a conclusion with a characteristic mannerism.


*  This and the next quotation are both adapted from Mr. Younghill Kang of New York University.

The ballad of Mu-lan tells us of the Tungus girl who went to war in the place of her father, disguised as a man. The rhythm of the first few lines suggests very strongly that of the folk song.

For twelve years her comrades never identified her as a woman. So the ballad ends:

With these cursory remarks on medieval folk songs, we take a precipitous step and plunge right into contemporary poetry. The folk songs of the present day have been miserably neglected. Literary men of the last generation hardly ever took a look at them. So the songs manifest all the signs of malnutrition and disproportionate growth. Their number is legion. From the city of Beijing alone, more than three thousand have been collected and annotated. You are referred to a monograph published last year by the Institute of History and Philology of the Academia Sinica, Peip'ing Su Ch'u Lueh, or The Vulgar Songs of Peiping, under the authorship of Li Jia Rui.

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