As one of the three perfections with painting and calligraphy in the Song dynasty, Song Poetry (or Song Ci) is a unique form of Classical Chinese poetry, which is suitable for music in tradition, and it emerged from Poetry in the Tang dynasty, made great strides forward in the Southern and Northern dynasties, reached its heyday in the Song dynasty and run down in the Ming and Qing dynasties, perfectly combining the properties of both literature and music.
Titled as a bright pearl among Classical Chinese
poetry, the Song Poetry is subject to prototypical fixed-rhythm forms, including the fixed pattern of tone, the number of syllables and the musical rhythms, and it’s allowable for a number of poems to share the same title in Song poetry, which was so prevailing in the Song dynasty that it could compare favorably with Tang poetry and Yuan Opera (Yuan Qu) in Chinese history.
Generally speaking, two schools make a distinctive contrast in Song poetry when it comes to poetic style, namely, the Subtle & Concise School VS the Powerful and Free School, and it’s thought in classical literary reviews that the former was represented by Li Qingzhao and the latter Su Shi, both of whom vary greatly in many aspects.
The poems from the Subtle & Concise School emphasize more on deep love between men and women in content, carefulness and meticulousness in structure, indirectness and harmony in pattern of tone and euphemisms and gracefulness in wording, which fully reflect the beauty of blandness with the proponents including Liu Yong, Yan Su, Ou Yangxiu, Qin Guan and Li Qingzhao, and here’s a masterpiece by Li Qingzhao below for your appreciation.
A Twig of Mume Blossoms
Red lotus scent fades; the jady mat feels fall cold.
I unlace my gauze dress and board the boat alone.
Through the clouds who will bring me a letter gold?
As geese return, moonlight fills my west bower lone.
The flowers flutter and the streams flow,
One longing links two minds so far apart.
There’s no way to escape such a sorrow,
Off my eyebrows, it creeps into my heart.
（Translated by Rexroth）
On the contrary, the poems from the Powerful and Free School feature luxuriant imagination, various changing language styles and endless passion as well as powerful wording, and the famous poets of this school include Su Shi, Xin Qiji and Yue Fei. Below is a masterpiece by Su Shi for your appreciation below.
Charm of a Maiden Singer
The endless river eastward flows;
With its huge waves are gone all those
Gallant heroes of bygone years.
West of the ancient fortress appears
Red Cliff where General Zhou won his early fame
When the Three Kingdoms were in flame.
Rocks tower in the air and waves beat on the shore,
Rolling up a thousand heaps of snow.
To match the land so fair, how many heroes of yore
Had made great show!
I fancy General Zhou at the height
Of his success, with a plume fan in hand,
In a silk hood, so brave and bright,
Laughing and jesting with his bride so fair,
While enemy ships were destroyed as planned
Like castles in the air.
Should their souls revisit this land,
Sentimental, his bride would laugh to say:
Younger than they, I have my hair turned grey.
Life is but like a dream.
0 moon, I drink to you who have seen them on the stream.
（Translated by Xu Yuanchong）
From the two poems above, you’ll have a glimpse of Song poetry, and more blogs on Chinese classical poems will be launched in the coming months, when I prefer to emphasize more on appreciations and analysis of pottery.
Author: Yang Qingwei