welcome

[green_message]In the Ocean of Poetry you’ll find lots of poems to read and, if you are so inclined, some (hopefully) useful information on Chinese language, poetic forms, cosmology, culture and whatever else we think you might find enlightening.

Hop in and sample the riches to be found in the ocean of Chinese poetry.  At the heart of Ocean of Poetry is a deep sampling of poems from the Chinese, translated by both the pioneers of translation and the recent generations. Traditionalists and adventurous experimenters, all are welcome here.

We hope you find your favorites – poets and translators – and discover eye (and heart) opening new ones. The poems are now arranged by poet chronologically, and we’ll be adding new poems, new poets, and new translators on an ongoing basis. A living breathing anthology…

What is yueh-fu, how do you identify Buddhist, Taoist, or Confucian images that a poet might be using, what did a classical poem sound like? Perhaps like me, you caught the Chinese poetry bug by coming across amazing poem after amazing poem. The wanting to know more about the poets, their times, their images. . . came later. We’re searching the depths of the ocean of writings to bring together the most informative and enlightening writings about the poems and the poetry at the heart of Ocean of Poetry.

We’ll also act the responsible librarian and bring together the most helpful resources and references to help you go beyond what we can offer here. To begin with we have compiled a comprehensive list of web links to online poems, writings, and resources. We’re all part of this oceanic ancient and living ecosystem.

As with any journey you’re never fully ready when you set out. There are many areas we have only or not even scratched the surface of yet – calligraphy and painting to name one (or two), Zen poetry, poetry and songs (no, not the Song but the singing kind), Chinese culture, and much more. We’ll eventually offer co-editor J.P. Seaton’s complete “An Introduction to Traditional Chinese Culture” lecture series drawn from his 35 years of playing Professor Seaton at UNC, Chapel Hill.

If–when–you get the itch for more of Yuan Mei or Li Po or T’ao Ch’ien you can conveniently peruse our online store and purchase one of the many wonderful books of Chinese poetry now available.

If you enjoy your time in the Ocean of Poetry, do come back as we will be growing and deepening. And we look forward to hearing from you; please let us know what you like and what you’d like to see here.

Stuart Carduner
J.P. Seaton

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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.