Early Winter

Po Ch-ui 

Tenth month south of the Yangtze, splendid weather,
winter landscapes delightful as the flowering spring,
frosts so light they don’t kill the lush vegetation,
warm sunshine drying the broad sandy flats.
Yellow leaves on the old paper mulberry look like new shoots;
white limbs of the winter cherry, blooming out of season.
At such times I envy idlers who can get drunk–
five-horse officials aren’t allowed in the taverns!m

Burton Watson

Passing the Temple of Gathered Fragrance

Wang Wei

Where is the Gathered Fragrance Temple?
Just how many  li away among those cloudy peaks?
Among the nncient trees, no paths for men.
Deep in the mountains, where is that bell?
The sound of the welling spring
is caught in the throat of the stoney stream.
Blanched in sere sunlight
the pines look colder still.
In the thin winter dusk, by the dry lake’s edge,
I sit in meditation, taming poison dragons.m



Lady Midnight Songs of the Four Seasons

It’s year’s end. Skies are ice-cold.
North wind dances snow into flight.

My dream love’s here beneath quilts,
and the heat of a long hot summer.

David Hinton


Wang Wei

You just came from my old village
so you know all about village affairs.

When you left, outside my window,
was it in bloom—that winter plum?

David Hinton

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.