the editors

[one_half]J.P. Seaton

J.P. Seaton was Professor of Chinese at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, from 1968 – 2003. His books of translations include The Wine of Endless Life: Taoist Drinking Songs from the Yuan Dynasty (originally, Ardis, 1978, second edition White Pine, 1985), Bright Moon/ Perching Bird, Selected poems of Li Po and Tu Fu, with Jim Cryer (Wesleyan, 1987),  Love and Time, selected poems of Ou-yang Hsiu (Copper Canyon Press, 1989), A Drifting Boat: Chinese Zen Poetry (White Pine Press, 1995), I  Don’t Bow to Buddhas: Selected Poems of Yuan Mei (Copper Canyon, 1997) The Essential Chuang Tzu (co-author with Sam Hamill, Shambhala, 1998),The Poetry of Zen (co-authored, with Sam Hamill) (Shambhala Publications, 2002). The Shambhala Anthology of Chinese Poetry (Shambhala, 2006), and Cold Mountain Poems: Zen Poems of Han Shan, Shih Te, and Wang Fan-chih, (Shambhala Publications, 2009), and  Bright Moon, White Clouds: Selected Poems of Li Po (Shambhala Publications, 2012). He collaborated with Ursula K. Le Guin on her translation of  Lao Tzu: Tao Te Ching (Shambhala. 1998). His new translations of Li Po, . He believes that he is America’s most widely anthologized translator of Chinese poetry.

 

Stuart Carduner

Stuart Carduner was a teacher and children’s museum director for 20 years. He is a photographer and filmmaker (www.scarduner.com). He is, as well, a musician, playing the mbira of Zimbabwe, and he has created a website to present this music, www.tinotenda.org.. In 2001 he created Ashoka, an online Buddhist educational study center, and in 2004 he expanded the project to become a portal for Buddhism-related resources, www.dharmanet.org. Stuart is a website developer (www.got-web.net). And he just loves Chinese poetry.

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The Shih Ching , usually translated as either The Book of Songs or the Classic of Poetry, is the first great collection of Chinese poetry. Tradition says that it was edited into its present form by the Sage of Sages, Confucius himself. In fact the book was assembled before, during, and after the life of Confucius. Its more than three hundred poems include fragments of works as old as the Shang Dynasty (traditional; dates 1766-1154 BCE) as well as “contemporary” poems from the Chou feudal states written or spoken by both aristocratic court figures and just plain “folks”. A great deal has been said about the origin of many, if not the majority of the poems as oral “folk” art, but it is clear from the artistry of the written language in which they have been handed down that, like the scribes who improved upon the originally oral poetry attributed to “Homer” in the West to create the Iliad and the Odyssey, the people who converted Chou folk songs and court verses into poetry in written Chinese characters clearly thought of themselves as (and were) artists. So the characters used to render simple and direct lyrical utterances of the illiterate peasant folk often honor them with carefully chosen written vocabulary: the heart and soul of folk art remains clearly present, but literary subtleties are introduced. The scribes who created the Shih Ching were poets, not tape recorders. They chose the best of what existed, and they honored it with their own art.

In its present form, the Shih Ching consists of three major sections, the Kuo Feng, or Odes of the States, comprising 160 of the 300 are generally but not always folk songs. The Ya (Elegant Verses) subdivided with no obvious criteria into greater and lesser, include poems 161-265, and the Sung or Temple Odes high ritual songs and bits of dynastic myth, include poems 266-305. The present selection is comes, all but a single longer poem on drinking and its positive and negative consequences from the “Lesser Elegants”, all come from the Kuo Feng Sections.

Knowledge of the Shih Ching poems was a necessity of diplomatic practice around the time of Confucius, when it was a common practice to deliver or at least support the delivery of diplomatic messages among the feudal domains (the “States or Guo of the Guo Feng) by oral presentation of relevant lines from the Classic. From the Han on many of the poems where imbued with very specific allegorical interpretations, but it is clear that later poets, who memorized the book word for word, used it as allusive material in their own poems at least as often for its plain “folk” messages as for its orthodoxly approved allegorical ones.