Ou-Yang Hsiu

Ou-Yang Hsiu – Tony Barnstone
Ouyang Xiu is considered to be a prime example of the Chinese ideal of the multifaceted scholar official, equivalent to the Western ideal of the Renaissance man…  He is the author of … a set of commentaries on poetics titled Mr. One six’s Talks on Poetics. (Mr. One six was a pen name of his that referred to his desire to be always in the presence of his wine, chess set, library, zither, and archaeological collection; thus, the five things he enjoyed plus himself—one old man among them—made six “ones.”) This compilation was the first treatise in the aphoristic shi hua form. Ouyang Xiu is esteemed as a prose master whose essays have clean and simple language and fluid argumentation; he helped lead a movement away from ornamental prose styles to a simpler style of “ancient prose,” a traditionalist movement that had as its aim a Confucian moral regeneration.

His poetry is also marvelous, and he was instrumental in raising the lyric (ci) form of poetry (poems written to fit popular songs) into a widespread and important Song poetic style. His plain style and use of colloquial expressions made his poetry accessible to larger audiences and helped preserve its freshness for audiences today. Like Andrew Marvell, he was a sensualist who is known for his carpe diem poems. Even just before his death, he wrote a poem about how “Just before the frost comes, the flowers / facing the high pavilion seem so bright.” Late in life he gave himself the title “The Old Drunkard.” He was also an individualist, both in his approach to writing and in his interpretations of the classics.[tooltip content= “The Anchor Book of Chinese Poetry, Tony Barnstone (Anchor, 2005)”] [source][/tooltip]

Returning in the Moonlight to Huang-hua

Joy’s in the sound of the spring up the cliff,
evening late the mountains quiet.
Pines, in a wash of moonlight,
as thousand peaks, a single hue.

J.P. Seaton

Swallow Falls

Swallows return here
to cold heights to dart through flying waters.
My friends gone, my heart sees them:
a flash of pure brilliance, glistening, long.

J.P. Seaton

East Wind

The burgeoning trees are thick with leaves.
The birds are singing on all the hills.
The east wind blows softly.
The birds sing, the flowers dance.
This minor magistrate is drunk.
Tomorrow when he wakes up,
Spring will no longer be new.

Kenneth Rexroth

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.