The Poetry of Song

         ( 宋       诗 )

Even though Ci was popular in the Song Dynasty, poetry in both ancient and modern forms did not decline. In the eyes of the people at the time poetry was loftier than Ci. Many more poems than Ci have been handed down from the Song Dynasty. There are two collections of Song poetry. The first one has 78 volumes and includes 882 poets; the second includes 3,800 poets. The poetry of Song is a distinctive type in its own right. We shall comment on its characteristics at the end of this section.

The pioneers of Song poetry are Mei Yaochen (梅尧臣,1002-1060) and Su Shunqin (苏顺钦,1008-1048). Mei emphasized the tradition of 《The Book of Songs》 and 《The Songs of Chu》, he put forward a famous artistic criteria for

A portrait of Mei Yaochen
poetry:  “ A scenery that is difficult to describe should be projected as if it is before your eye; what has not been said should be heard outside the words. 状难写之景如在目前, 含不尽之意见于言外.” Mei's poems are of a calm and light style. Let’s read his “东溪,Dong Xi, The East Brook”:
  行到东溪看水时,        Xing dao dong xi kan shui shi,
  坐临孤屿发船迟。        Zuo lin gu yu fa chuan chi.
  野凫眠岸有闲意,        Ye fu mian an you xian yi,
  老树着花无丑枝。        Lao shu zhao hua wu chou zhi.
  短短蒲薾齐似剪,        Duan duan pu er qi si jian,
  平平沙石净于筛。        Ping ping sha shi jing yu shai.
  情虽不厌住不得,        Qing sui bu yan zhu bu de,
  薄暮归来车马疲。        Bo mu gui lai che ma pi.

  When arrived at Dong Xi I looked at the water,
  Sitting opposite to the islet I asked the boat to return later.
  Leisurely the wild ducks were sleeping at the bank,
  No ugly branches on the old tree that was growing flowers.
  The short calami were so even as if being trimmed,
  Sand and stones were cleaner than those being sifted were.
  I hadn’t seen enough yet couldn’t spend the night there,
  I returned at dusk and the horses were tired.

The 3rd and 4th lines are well known, for they picture a lively spring scene by a quiet and pale stroke. Su Shunqin's poems are ebullient and untrammeled. Let’s read his “和《淮上遇便风》, In Reply to 《With a Tail Wind on Huai River》”:

  浩荡清淮共天流,      Hao dang qing huai gong tian liu,
  长风万里送归舟。      Chang feng wan li song gui zhou.
  应愁晚泊喧卑地,      Ying chou wan bo xuan bei di,
  吹入沧溟始自由。      Chui ru cang ming shi zi you.

  The clear and mighty Huai River flows into the sky,
  The long lasting wind almost pushes the return boat fly,
  I worry if tonight it is to be berthed in noises and humidity,
  If we were blown into the blue sea I’ll begin to feel free.

Mei and Su laid down the first bricks for the development of Song poetry; they contributed a lot in redressing the soft and decadent style of “Xi Kun Form” which was started in early Song by Yang Yi. Then, Ouyang Xiu (欧阳修,1007-1072) came 

  A portrait of Ouyang Xiu
to the scene and became a leader in reforming literature and poetry. His “Liu Yi Shi Hua, A Talk on Poetry” was a new form of poetry criticism and very influential. His seven-character a line old form poems are particularly good. His lines are a bit prosaic, yet his style remains bold and unrestrained. There are many commentary remarks on politics in his poetry, but they can still be read with ease. He later became the Minister of Justice and the Minister of Defense. He accomplished much more in prose writing than poetry. Before we leave him, let’s read “别滁,Bie Chu, Departing from Chuzhou”:

  花光浓烂柳轻明,     Hua guang nong lan liu qing ming,
  酌酒花前送我行。     Zhuo jiu hua qian song wo xing.
  我亦且如常日醉,     Wo yi qie ru chang ri zui,
  莫教弦管作离声。     Mo jiao xian guan zuo li sheng.

  Flowers in full blossom and bright willow branches swaying,
  At the farewell party before flowers we are drinking.
  I should just get drunk like always,
  Parting music shouldn’t be played by pipes and string.

This parting poem was written with a light-hearted touch. With the efforts of the above mentioned three poets, the foundation of Song poetry was laid and its orientation set.

  A statute of Wang Anshi
Wang Anshi (王安石,1021-1086) was twice the Prime Minister of the Song Dynasty. He initiated the well-known “Wang Anshi Political Reform.” He is also a prolific writer and poet. He composed more than 1, 500 poems. He admired Du Fu and Han Yu, was deeply influenced by Ouyang Xiu. Too many commentary remarks contained in his early poems made it difficult to read. His later poems are much better, especially short poems on scenery. I would like to cite his “泊船瓜洲,Bo Chuan Gua Zhou, To Berth the Boat at Guazhou”:

  京口瓜洲一水间,      Jing kou gua zhou yi shui jian,
  钟山只隔数重山。      Zhong shan zhi ge shu chong shan.
  春风又绿江南岸,      Chun feng you lu jiang nan an,
  明月何时照我还?      Ming yue he shi zhao wo huan?

  Jingkou and Guazhou are on the same river,
  Only several hills lie between the Bell Mount and the traveler.
  Spring wind has made the banks green again,
  When could the moon lighten up my return way I wonder?

We now come to the great masters of Song poetry Su Shi and Huang Tingjian (黄庭坚,1045-1105). We have discussed about Su Shi’s Ci writing in the last section. Su and Huang gave a complete new look to the poetry of Song. As a matter of fact, when we discuss about the characteristics of Song poetry, we refer mainly to the characteristics of the poetry of Su and Huang. Let us discuss the poems of Su Shi. Su opposed Wang Anshi’s
reform; he was up and down several times in his official positions because of party struggles. He was conservative in politics. He did things good for people when he was a local official. He was bold, unrestrained, inordinately proud of his talents and self-indulgent. Several times he was relegated to lower positions, yet from his poems we can see he took such experiences philosophically and that he could stand aloof from struggles for fame and gain. He was never a passive and dispirited person. He was broad-minded and traveled widely. He wrote about his thought on life, which was based on his actual experience. With his grand, bold and flowing style, tactful description and rich metaphor, he achieved a very high attainment in poetry. His seven-character a line ancient form poems were the best, which are natural and full of changes. The prosaic feature of Song poetry came to a summit with Su Shi. Let us now read his following poems:

     新城道中           Xin Cheng Dao Zhong

  东风知我欲山行,      Dong feng zhi wo yu shan xing,
  吹断檐间积雨声。      Chui duan yan jian ji yu sheng.
  岭上晴云披絮帽,      Ling shang qing yun pi xu mao,
  树头初日挂铜钲。      Shu tou chu ri gua tong zheng.
  野桃含笑竹蓠短,      Ye tao han xiao zhu li duan,
  溪柳自摇沙水清。      Xi liu zi yao sha shui qing.
  西崦人家应最乐,      Xi yan ren jia ying zui le,
  煮葵烧笋饷春耕。      Zhu kui shao xun xiang chun geng.

  The east wind knew I would go through the mountains,
  It then turned off for me from the eaves the accumulated rain.
  With a haze over the peaks they were wearing white scarves,
  It looks like a copper gong hanging on treetops when rising sun remained.
  The bamboo fence was short and smiles on peach trees sustained,
  Willow branches swaying by the brook whose water was so clean.
  The Xiyan families should be the happiest,
  With spring ploughing started, food cooked they toasted to future gain.

Su Shi was a deputy magistrate of Hangzhou for three years. Xin Cheng in the southwest of Hangzhou was one of the counties within the jurisdiction. The poem depicted what he saw on the way to Xin Cheng with a light-hearted touch. Hangzhou has been famous for its West Lake. Su Shi wrote many poems about the lake. The following one enjoys great popularity:

  饮湖上, 初晴后雨     Yin Hu Shang, Chu Qing Hou Yu

水光潋艳晴方好,      Shui guang lian yan qing fang hao,
山色空蒙雨亦奇。      Shan se kong meng yu yi qi.
欲把西湖比西子,      Yu ba xi hu bi xi zi,
淡妆浓抹总相宜。      Dan zhuang nong mo zong xiang yi.

  Drinking on the Lake amid a Second Rain
  The vast water ripples while it has just turned clear and nice,
  Hills shrouded in mist and the rain is a bit queer.
  I’d liken the West Lake to the West Beauty,
  No matter the makeup is pale or thick it is always proper.

This comment on the West Lake gives the poem an artistic life that surpasses time. Since wind is almost part of daily life here , I would like to cite “大风留金山两日,Da Feng Liu Jin Shan Liang Ri, Stayed at Jinshan for Two days Because of the Big Wind”:

  塔上一铃独自语:     Ta shang yi ling du zi yu:
  “明日颠风当断渡。” “Ming ri dian feng dang duan du.”
  朝来白浪打苍崖,     Zhao lai bai lang da cang ya,
  倒射轩窗作飞雨。     Dao she xuan chuang zuo fei yu.
  龙骧万斛不敢过,     Long xiang wan hu bu gan guo,
  渔舟一叶从掀舞。     Yu zhou yi ye cong xian wu.
  细思城市有底忙,     Xi si cheng shi you di mang,
  却笑蛟龙为谁怒?     Que xiao jiao long wei shui nu?
  无事久留僮仆怪,     Wu shi jiu liu tong pu guai,
  此风聊得妻孥许。     Ci feng liao de qi nu xu.
  灊山道人独何事,     Qian shan dao ren du he shi,
  夜半不眠听粥鼓。     Ye ban bu mian ting zhou gu.

  A bell on the tower was talking to itself:
  “Tomorrow the ferry will be stopped by a fierce wind.”
  The next morning white waves slashed on the green cliff,
  And bounced back to the ship window as a flying rain.
  A ship in the capacity of 100 thousand decaliters dares not cross,
  A small boat is being tossed by waves, which are not reined in.
  On second thought what’s there in the city to be done,
  With who are you so angry I ask the dragon.
  Servants would blame me if we stay and doing nothing,
  This wind can just serve as a reason to keep my wife and son.
  What is the Qianshan Taoist doing by himself?
  Deep at night to the wooden fish he listened.
The name of Longxiang did not appear in the translation, Long was a general of Jin who built a big ship, which could take 2,000 people. With Su Shi on the boat, there were also Qin Guan and the Taoist. The wooden fish is what monks strike at while chanting. This poem shows Su Shi was a broad-minded person and that he regarded adversity in a philosophical way. Su Shi was a prolific poet; we now have over 2,000 of his poems being well kept.

  A portrait of Huang Tingjian
Let us now come to Huang Tingjian and read a few of his poems.

      寄黄几复              Ji Huang Ji Fu

  我居北海君南海,      Wo ju bei hai jun nan hai,
  寄雁传书谢不能。      Ji yan chuan shu xie bu neng.
  桃李春风一杯酒,      Tao li chun feng yi bei jiu,
  江湖夜雨十年灯。      Jiang hu ye yu shi nian deng.
  持家但有四立壁,      Chi jia dan you si li bi,
  治病不蕲三折肱。      Zhi bing bu qi san zhe gong.
  想见读书头已白,      Xiang jian du shu tou yi bai,
  隔溪猿哭瘴溪藤。         Ge xi yuan ku zhang xi teng.

               Writing to Huang Jifu

  I live at the North Sea and you at the South Sea,
  I asked the wild goose to pass a letter but was told they could not.
  Each of us held a cup of wine and talked amid spring wind with peach and plum blossom,
  For ten years we missed each other before lamps during night rain outside.
  To keep the family you had had nothing but the four walls,
  You did not have to break your arm three times to have the diseases treated.
  I figure you still study hard even though your hair is gray,
  And the cry of apes filled in the vines on the other side of the brook.

Huang Jifu was a childhood friend of the poet. When this poem was written the poet was in Shandong and Jifu was far away in Guangdong. It was said the southern most places the wild goose could go were Hengyang, but Guangdong was further south. That’s why the goose refused to carry a letter for the poet. The 3rd and 4th lines are most well known. The 3rd line talked about their happy gathering and the 4th about how deeply they missed each other after they parted. With most frequently used words the poet created here unique scenes and feelings. Why do you have to break your arm three times? It comes from a phrase: “If one breaks his arm three times, he becomes a good doctor.” This line says that Jifu was good at treating diseases; the understatement was Jifu had capabilities in attending to state affairs, yet he was never given an important and appropriate position. In diction, Huang set a requirement for himself—every word must have its origin, that is to say the word must have been used by previous writers or poets. For instance, the wild goose line was a modified form of Du Fu’s line—“When would the wild goose reach him, since the autumn water in rivers and lakes is so vast.” When writing these lines, Du Fu was missing Li Bai. Huang gave this old line a new meaning. Critics described this method as “pointing at the iron and turn it into gold.” Because of Huang’s self requirement, quotations and citing of past happenings are very common in his poems. Some of Huang’s poems were inscriptions on paintings; the following one is such a poem. He wrote a short introduction: “Zizhan (Su Shi) painted bamboo bushes, Boshi (Li Gonglin) added a cow with a cowboy on its back on the slope, I find it most interesting and composed the following poem for fun.”

  题竹石牧牛            Ti Zhu Shi Mu Niu

  野次小峥嵘,         Ye ci xiao zheng rong,
  出篁相倚绿。         Chu huang xiang yi lu.
  阿童三尺棰,         A tong san chi chui,
  御此老觳觫。         Yu ci lao hu su.
  石吾甚爱之,          Shi wu shen ai zhi,
  勿遣牛砺角!          Wu qian niu li jiao!
  牛砺角犹可,          Niu li jiao you ke,
  牛斗残我竹。          Niu dou can wo zhu.

   To Inscribe on a Painting of Bamboo, Stone and a Cow

  A piece of jagged rock of grotesque shape,
  With a clump of deep green bamboo beside.
  The cowboy has a three-foot long whip,
  Driving an old shaking cow up slope.
  Stone is something I like,
  Don’t let the cow whet its horn on the rock!
  Horn sharpening maybe all right,
  But a bullfight would have my bamboo destroyed.

The poet expressed his love of nature in the poem. Any form of destruction of natural beauty would make his heart ache. He lived at the later period of Northern Song in which party struggles were rather fierce. The poem was certainly asking people to take horn sharpening and bullfight as a lesson and to seek a peaceful and quiet life. Finally, let’s read “清明,Qing Ming, On the Day of Pure Brightness”:

  佳节清明桃李笑,       Jia jie qing ming tao li xiao,
  野田荒垅自生愁。       Ye tian huang long zi sheng chou.
  雷惊天地龙蛇蛰,       Lei jing tian di long she zhe,
  雨足郊原草木柔。       Yu zu jiao yuan cao mu rou.
  人乞祭余骄妾妇,       Ren qi ji yu jiao qie fu,
  士甘焚死不公侯。       Shi gan fen si bu gong hou.
  贤愚千载知谁是,       Xian yu qian zai zhi shui shi,
  满眼蓬蒿共一丘。       Man yan peng hao gong yi qiu.

  On the nice festival of Pure Brightness peaches and plums smile,
  The barren ridges and wild lands feel depressed.
  Thunder startled the world, the dragon and snake from their winter sleep,
  Grass and wood are softened by sufficient rain on suburb land.
  Somebody took the sacrificial food and showed it to his wife,
  Somebody would rather be burnt to death and not to be a duke.
  Through the ages who are virtuous and who is stupid?
  The mound in the clump of wild grass is where everyone would end.

The Pure Brightness Day in China is a day people go to pay respect to the dead at his tomb. Other poems of the same theme are full of tears. When this poem was written, Huang should have had more tears. Because, together with Qin Guan and Su Shi’s family, he was persecuted by the government. The then prime minister had ordered to burn all their books, Huang was sent to the remote Guangxi area where he was only given a small room up on the city wall. He stayed there for only ten months and died there. But he was a broad-minded man; he was not dispirited even in adversity. The 5th line was pointed at those who ingratiated themselves with the ruling clique, the 6th line sings praise of those like Su Shi, Qin Guan and Chen Shidao in particular who was a brother-in-law of one member of the ruling clique, refused to accept any help and a title of a duke, and finally died of hunger and cold. Huang paid much attention to the technique of poetry writing. He was especially particular to diction. We mentioned that he like to quote previous poets and cite past happenings. His style developed into a very influential school—the Jiangxi Poetry Society. 

A Portrait of Lu You
We didn’t really discuss about Lu You (陆游,1125-1210)in the last chapter. His Ci writing was also outstanding. His Pu Suan Zi-Ode to Plum, to which our late Chairman Mao Zedong wrote a Ci to reply, and his Cai Tou Feng are very well known. But Lu accomplished more in poetry. He was born into a family of academic atmosphere and received profound family education at his childhood. But in the second year of his birth, the capital of Song was taken over by Jin troops; the family had to run away to the south. Such life of wandering about nurtured his concern on political reality. He was several times a petty local official, never had the opportunity of participation in decision making. He wrote many proposals to the imperial court on resisting Jin and recovering the lost land, yet was several times refused and even punished. He went to many places, and “covered ten thousand li in ten years.” His “Note on Entering into Shu” records how he arrived in Sichuan from Jiangsu, Anhui, Jiangxi, Hubei and Hunan. Such trips of course enriched his life. The imperial court was satisfied with ruling only half of the country. But whenever Lu You thought of the lost central plain area, he would “raise up his face and sing the sad songs while tears run down like rain.” There wasn’t any moment at which he didn’t wish to “pour down all the water from the Milky Way to wash off the dust brought by foreign barbarians.” In his early poetry writing, he was influenced, but not bounded by the Jiangxi Poetry Society. He absorbed a great deal of nutrition from Qu Yuan, Tao Yuanming, Li Bai and Du Fu. He compiled at his sixties his own poetry anthology which included more than 2,500 poems. It is said that he threw away almost ten thousand poems which he thought were not good enough. His last 20 years was a most prolific period during which 6,500 poems were written. We now have more than 9,300 of his poems in existence. He wrote in various forms of poetry. It is agreed that his “Qi Lu” and “Jue Ju”are the best. Varied as his styles are, he was mainly a realistic poet. Let’s now read first of all his “长歌行,Chang Ge Xing, A Long Song”:

 人生不作安期生,     Ren sheng bu zuo an qi sheng,
  醉入东海骑长鲸;     Zui ru dong hai qi chang jing;
  犹当出作李西平,     You dang chu zuo li xi ping,
  手枭逆贼清旧京。     Shou xiao ni zei qing jiu jing.
  金印煌煌未入手,     Jin yin huang huang wei ru shou,
  白发种种来无情。     Bai fa zhong zhong lai wu qing.
  成都古寺卧秋晚,     Cheng du gu si wo qiu wan,
  落日偏傍僧窗明。      Luo ri pian pang seng chuang ming.
  岂其马上破贼手,     Qi qi ma shang po zei shou,
  哦诗长作寒螀鸣?     E shi chang zuo han jiang ming?
  兴来买尽市桥酒,     Xing lai mai jin shi qiao jiu,
  大车磊落堆长瓶;     Da che lei luo dui chang ping;
  哀丝豪竹助剧饮,     Ai si hao zhu zhu ju yin,
  如鉅野受黄河倾。     Ru ju ye shou huang he qing.
  平时一滴不入口,     Ping shi yi di bu ru kou,
  意气顿使千人惊。     Yi qi dun shi qian ren jing.
  国仇未报壮士老,     Guo chou wei bao zhuang shi lao,
  匣中宝剣夜有声。     Xia zhong bao jian ye you sheng.
  何当凯旋宴将士,     He dang kai xuan yan jiang shi,
  三更雪压飞狐城!     San geng xue ya fei hu cheng!

  If one can not live like An Qisheng the immortal,
  Who got drunk in the East Sea and rode on a whale;
  One should live like Li Xiping the general,
  Who killed the enemy and cleared up the old capital.
  Unlike Li, I was not given the bright golden seal,
  Yet short and white hair relentlessly grows.
  At a late fall dusk I lie down at the old Chengdu temple,
  Setting sun glows on the monk’s window.
  How can I, a hero who on horseback crushed the evil,
  Be like a cold cicada, which can only chant songs of sorrow?
  In my mood I’d buy from the market all the wine available,
  Carts would be loaded with long and empty bottles.
  String and pipe music is twisting my elbow,
  I drink like vast land taking in all water from the river of yellow.
  I normally don’t even have a drop,
  In high spirit a thousand people would be startled.
  I’ve grown old yet the state revenge remains to settle,
  At night the precious sword in its case rattles.
  If I return triumphantly I’ll give a party to soldiers and generals,
  We’d drink until small hours at Feihu City in spite of heavy snow.

Li Xiping was a Tang general who subdued the traitor’s army and recovered the west capital. Feihu City was at the northern frontier. The whole poem flows. It forges ahead like a full sail with a mighty momentum. Both the beginning and the end are flawlessly composed and the whole poem is in a perfect shape. It is a fine example of Lu You’s poetry. Now, let’s read one of his “Qi Lu”—“枕上作,Zhen Shang Zuo, Composed on the Pillow”:

 萧萧白发卧扁舟,      Xiao xiao bai fa wo pian zhou,
  死尽中朝旧辈流。      Si jin zhong chao jiu bei liu.
  万里关河孤枕梦,      Wan li guan he gu zhen meng,
  五更风雨四山秋。      Wu geng feng yu si shan qiu.
  郑虔自笑穷耽酒,      Zheng qian zi xiao qiong dan jiu,
  李广何妨老不侯。      Li guang he fang lao bu hou.
  犹有少年风味在,      You you shao nian feng wei zai,
  吴笺着句写清秋。      Wu jian zhao ju xie qing qiu.

  With my sparse and white hair I laid on a small boat,
  In the cabinet the old generation has passed away.
  In the dream on the lonely pillow I saw the long river,
  When woke up there was the early morning storm and on the four hills was the autumn scenery.
  Zheng Qian was pleased he was so indulged in drinking,
  What did it matter that Li Guang wasn’t knighted in his old days.
  I may still have my teenage habits and spirit,
  I’d better write on the Wu paper about my worries.

Lu You was 76 when this poem was written. It had been more than 10 years since he was deposed and went back to his hometown. By then his friends had died. He was the only living man, yet his aspiration of recovering the lost northern land had not been realized. He dreamed about the long river in the north. But when he opened his eyes, it was coldness all around. He likened himself to Zheng Qian and Li Guang of the Tang Dynasty. Zheng’s poetry, calligraphy and paintings ranked very high, but lived in poor conditions all his life. Lu said Zheng should be pleased that he was addicted to drinking. Li Guang fought more than 70 battles with the Huns and won almost every one of them, but was never knighted a marquis. Lu was at this time leading a poor life, yet he didn’t care about fame or power. Finally let’s read one of his “Jue Ju”—“示儿,Shi Er, Words to My Son”:

  死去元知万事空,      Si qu yuan zhi wan shi kong,
  但悲不见九州同。      Dan bei bu jian jiu zhou tong.
  王师北定中原日,      Wang shi bei ding zhong yuan ri,
  家祭无忘告乃翁。      Jia ji wu wang gao nai weng.

  Mao Zedong’s calligraphy of the poem.

  I know everything is empty for the one who dies,
  My only regret is that the whole country is not unified.
  On the day the imperial army recovers the central plain,
  Let me know when the offerings are presented.

This was the last poem Lu You wrote. It was a will to his son. This short poem of simple words has always been touching.

Yang Wanli and Fan Dacheng are famous poets of Lu You’s peer. Yang’s poems are full of slang words. Fan’s poems of pastoral life are well known. In the late years of Southern Song, the poems of Wen Tianxiang, Wang Yuanliang and Yuan Haowen are very influential, among them Yuan accomplished more. His “论诗绝句三十首,30 Jue Ju Poems on Poetry” are most important documents in the history of China’s literature criticism.

Before I close this chapter, I would like to elaborate a little bit on how critics compared Tang poetry with Song poetry. They said Tang poetry was superior in rhyme, it was therefore vigorous, elegant, flexible and urbanely charming; Song poetry was superior in conception, it was therefore refined, deep and penetrating. Tang poetry was like Chinese herbaceous peony and flowering crabapple, which were luxuriant; Song poetry was like winter plum and autumn chrysanthemum, which were of quiet and cool fragrance. Reading Tang poetry was like eating litchi, with one in mouth, its sweetness would be brimmed over to your cheek; reading Song poetry was like eating olive, the first taste maybe a bit bitter, but the after taste could last long. If we use building a garden as a metaphor, Tang poetry was like laying a gravel path, digging a pond, building a pavilion and a hall; Song poetry was like carved beams and painted rafters in the pavilion and hall, and exotic grass and famous flowers by the side of water and stone. If we use travel as a metaphor, Tang poetry was like climbing high and looking far which could turn you into a high spirit; Song poetry was like going through a winding valley which were quiet and cool. You can not say which is better; you can only say they are different.

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