Poetry: Ancient Chinese "Classic of Poetry" ... excerpts. Confucius taught the "Classic of Poetry" to his disciples

"Classic of Poetry" Ca. 1000-600 B.C.E.   ( from Norton Anthology of World Literature, Volume A)


    In contrast to other ancient literary cultures, which begin with epics, prose legends, or hymns to the gods, the Chinese tradition begins with lyric poetry. The Classic of Poetry (also known as Book of Songs) is a collection of 305 songs representing the heritage of the Chou people. The earliest in the collection are believed to date from around 1000 B.C.E. and the latest from around 600 B.C.E., at which time it seems to have reached something like its present form.

    Althought the collection circulated among the Chou aristocracy, it obviously drew from a wide variety of sources, and its diversity represents many levels of Chou society. 

    Down through the fifth century B.C.E. the Classic of Poetry served as the basic educational text of the Chou upper class. As the various Chou domains gradually evolved into independent states, the Classic of Poetry represented their common Chou heritage. The philosopher Confucius (551-479 B.C.E.) advised his disciples:


        By the Poems you can stir people and you can observe things through them; you can express your 
        resentment in them and you can show sociable feelings. Close to home you can use them to serve your 
        father, and on a larger scale you can use them to serve your ruler. Moreover, you can learn to recognize 
        many names of birds, beasts, plants, and trees.


    By "observe" Confucius meant something like discovering universal precepts in the Poems. But that was not the only way in which the Poems were used.  The power of the Classic of Poetry to "stir people" probably refers to their frequent use in conversation and diplomacy.  Citation of one of the poems was often used to clinch a point in an argument or, more subtly, to express an opinion that one would rather not say openly. As with Homer's epics in early Greece, knowledge of the Classic of Poetry was considered an essential part of cultural education in early China.


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LXXXI.   "I Went Along the Broad Road"

I went along the broad road
and took you by the sleeve ---
do not hate me,
never spurn old friends.

I went along the broad road
and took you by the hand ---
do not scorn me,
never spurn a love




XXVI.   Boat of Cypress

That boat of cypress drifts along,
it drifts upon the stream.
Restless am I, I cannot sleep,
as though in torment and troubled.
Nor am I lacking wine
to ease my mind and let me roam.

This heart of mine is no mirror,
it cannot take in all.
Yes, I do have brothers,
but brothers will not be my stay.
I went and told them of my grief
and met only with their rage.

This heart of mine is no stone;
you cannot turn it where you will.
This heart of mine is no mat;
I cannot roll it up within.
I have behaved with dignity,
in this no man can fault me.

My heart is uneasy and resltess,
I am reproached by little men.
Many are the woes I've met,
and taken slights more than a few.
I think on it in the quiet,
I cannot spread wings and fly.

Oh Sun! and you Moon!
Why do you each grow dim in turn?
These troubles of the heart
are like unwashed clothes.
I think on it in the quiet,
I cannot spread wings to fly away.




LXIV.   Quince

She cast a quince to me,
a costly garnet I returned;
it was no equal return,
but by this love will last.

She cast a peach to me,
costly opal I returned;
it was no equal return,
but by this love will last.

She cast a plum to me,
a costly ruby I returned;
it was no equal return,
but by this love will last.




LXXVI.   Chung-tzu, Please

Chung-tzu, please
don't cross my village wall,
don't break the willows planted there.
It's not that I care so much for them,
but I dread my mother and father;
Chung-tzu may be in my thoughts,
but what my father and mother said ---
that too may be held in dread.

Chung-tzu, please
don't cross my fence,
don't break the mulberries planted there.
It's not that I care so much for them,
but I dread my brothers;
Chung-tzu may be in my thoughts,
but what my brothers said ---
that too may be held in dread.

Chung-tzu, please
don't cross into my garden,
don't break the sandalwood planted there.
It's not that I care so much for them,
but I dread others will talk too much ---
that too may be held in dread.




XLII.   Gentle Girl

A gentle girl and fair
awaits by the crook of the wall;
in shadows I don't see her;
I pace and scratch my hair.

A gentle girl and comely
gave me a scarlet pipe;
scarlet pipe that gleams ---
in your beauty I find delight.

Then she brought me a reed from the pastures,
it was truly beautiful and rare.
Reed --- the beauty is not yours ---
you are but beauty's gift.




LXXXII.   Rooster Crows

The woman said, "The rooster crows."
The man said, "Still the dark before the dawn."
"Get up, man --- look at the night! ---
the morning star is sparkling;
go roving and go roaming,
shoot the wild goose and the teal.

When your arrows hit them
I will dress them just for you;
when they are dressed, we'll drink the wine,
and I will grow old with you.
There'll be harps to attend us,
and all will be easy and good.

If I know that you will come,
I will make a gift of many jewels;
if I know you will accept,
I'll show my care with many jewels;
if I know you will love me,
I'll answer you with many jewels."




CXL.   Willows by the Eastern Gate

Willows by the Eastern Gate,
their leaves so thick and close.
Dusk had been the time set,
and now the morning star glows bright.

Willows by the Eastern Gate,
their leaves so dense and full.
Dusk had been the time set,
and now the morning star shines pale.



 

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