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Ancient Poems: Yuefu Songs with Regular Five-Syllable Lines

  • chinese poem
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Yuefu Songs with Regular Five-Syllable Lines
Modern Chinese translation by Lin Xi
English translation by Yang Xianyi and Gladys Yang
Published by Foreign Languages Press, 2001
Paperback: 217 pages; Dimensions (inch): 0.07 x 8.00 x 5.06
ISBN: 7119028219

This book contains 24 Yuefu songs, including "the Peacock Flew to the Southeast," "the Ballad of Mulan". In China "poetic education" in the original meaning is learning The Book of Songs. This is the first comprehensive anthology of Chinese poems including including 305 poems of the Zhou Dynasty (1122-256 B.C.). It was originally called Shi (Poems) and Shi Sanbai (Three Hundred Poems). Each poem in The Book of Songswas set to music and could be sung. The compilers classified the 305 poems into folk songs, ceremonial songs, and sacrificial songs, according to their contents and the style of the music. Folk songs, which were popular among the people, made up the best part of The Book of Songs, while ceremonial songs and sacrificial songs were used mainly on sacrificial or ceremonial occasions to eulogize the merits and virtues of the Son of Heaven and of his forefathers.

After the third century B.C. the various States of China were repeatedly annexed by whichever was militarily the strongest among them. The first Chinese Empire was formed under the House of Qin and extended over a wider area than any of the preceding agglomerations of States. The Qin dynasty stands shortly. The Qin dynasty was succeeded by the Han dynasty (206 B.C.-219 A.D.). In contrast to the preceding Qin dynasty, the Han was a period of cultural flowering. A poetic form that became the norm for creative writing, began to flourish. Emperor Wu created a music bureau, called "yuefu" in Chinese, specially to collect and record ceremonial chants, but also the songs and ballads of ordinary people. Collected by the Han Music Bureau "Yuefu", many of these songs are anonymous, but also men of letters wrote these tunes, folk ballads, many of them are very narrative. Later, during the Eastern Han, poems with five characters to a line in imitation of the yuefu style appeared. The employment of five characters to the line was found to be a more rewarding measure, permitting a smoother and more melodious effect and the evocation of subtler human feelings. During periods of social and political upheaval, from the 3rd to the 7th century, poets found refuge and consolation in nature. Some were hermits who created a so-called field-and-garden school of poetry; others produced some of the best Chinese folk lyrics, such as the love poems attributed to "Zi Ye", a woman poet who wrote "the Ballad of Mulan", celebrating the adventures of a woman soldier disguised as a man; and "the Peacock Flew to the Southeast," a long narrative of tragic family love, written in plain but vivid language. "The Peacock Flies to the Southeast" or "the Bride of Jiao Zhongqing" represents the magnificent yuefu folk songs. "The Song of Mulan" is specially popular with Chinese people.

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