Liu Yung

Liu Yung - J.P. Seaton

Liu Yung probably made his living as a scribe, creating business documents or writing letters for illiterate peasants. I suspect, from what I’ve seen of his poetry, that he also wrote poems for aspiring young seducers, just as European scribes often did before the age of a strong liberal education for all military officers. He’s credited with making the tz’u popular in the early Sung. [tooltip content= “The Shambhala Anthology of Chinese Poetry, J.P. Seaton (Shambhala, 2006)”] [source][/tooltip]

Where I Graze

Where I gaze, the rain is ending
and the clouds break up,
as I lean at the rail in anxious silence
seeing off the last of autumn’s glow.

The evening scene is lovely enough
to chill an ancient poet into sadness,
and though the touch of wind and rain is light,
the duckweed gradually grows older.

In the moonlit frost the Wu-t’ung’s
leaves whirl yellow.
Giving love is taking pain:
Where are you now?
The misty waters: vast, and vague.

Writing or drinking, it’s hard to forget….
How many nights alone beneath the clouded moon?
Again the changes, stars and frost, seas broad,
the heavens far, and no way home.

Swallows pair, as I depend on letters.
I point into the evening sky, but
there is no returning boat.

At dusk we gaze at one another,
In the sound of the swans’ cry,
Standing ’til the slanting sun is set. .

J.P. Seaton



On the road to Chang-an

On the road to Ch’ang-an my horse goes slowly.
In the tall willows a confusion of cicada cries.
Slanting sun beyond the isles,
And winds of autumn on the plain. Only
where the heavens hang,
the view cut off

The clouds go back, but
gone, they leave no track.
Where is the past?
Unused to indulgence, a little
wine’s no consolation.
It’s not
as it was
when I was young.

J.P. Seaton

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.