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THE BOOK OF SONGS (c. 600 B.C.)

The Book of Songs is the earliest anthology of Chinese poetry, and the thematic and formal source of the Chinese poetic tradition. The Chinese name for The Book of Songs is the Shi Jing, and the term shi (the general term for poetry, like the Japanese term waka) derives from its name. Legend has it that its three hundred and five poems were compiled by Confucius (552-479 B.C.) from an earlier manuscript of around three thousand songs. The assertion that Confucius was the compiler is questionable, but certainly the anthology was extant in Confucius' time, and it seems likely that the anthology was collected between 1100 and 600 B.C. Confucius refers to the Book of Songs in the Analects and it was part of the curriculum of his disciples; it is counted among the Confucian Classics which form the basis of Confucian education. The collection was banned in the third century B.C., along with the other Confucian Classics, but was reconstructed during the Han dynasty, and the rescension which is most complete derives from this time. The Book of Songs contains three basic categories of song: folksongs and ballads, court songs and sacrificial songs. Like the Sanskrit Vedas of India, these songs provide us with a window onto the simple and beautiful life of an ancient time. Heroes and ancestors are praised, love is made, war is waged, farmers sing to their crops, people complain about their taxes, and moral categories are set forth in stark and powerful form. Though these are songs, the music has been lost, and some of them have been revised from folksong roots by court musicians, rhymed and arranged into stanzas. Others were aristocratic songs, songs to be sung to accompany ritual dancing, or to accompany the rites of ancestor worship.

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Collecting Kudzu Vine

He went away to collect kudzu vine.
One day's absence
is as long as three months.

He went away to collect wormwood.
One day's absence
is as long as three seasons.

He went away to collect moxa.
One day's absence
is as long as three years.

        ---Translated by Tony Barnstone and Chou Ping

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There Are Tall Weeds in the Fields

There are tall weeds in the fields
with glistening dew drops.
There comes a beautiful girl
with eyes like clear water.
We meet here by chance--
just as I wished.

There are tall weeds in the fields
with sparkling dew drops.
There comes a beautiful girl,
graceful as her eyes.
We meet here by chance--
let's find a place and hide.

        ---Translated by Tony Barnstone and Chou Ping

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Fox with a New Coat of Fur

A fox lopes slowly
on the stone bank of the Qi River.
My heart is worried--

you don't have warm clothes.

A fox lopes slowly
by the river ford.
My heart is worried--
you don't have a belt.

A fox lopes slowly
on the other side of the river.
My heart is worried--
you don't have a new coat.


        ---Translated by Tony Barnstone and Chou Ping

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Note: This is a poem about a woman missing her husband, who was posted to the border.


 

 
     
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