Friday, April 8, 2011

Ancient Chinese Poetry

During this week we’ve been talking about Whitman’s “Song of Myself” and the musical elements in it. Well, creating poems in the form of songs is actually another characteristics of ancient Chinese poem. Before printing technology was invented, people often times pass those poems generation by generation through singing. Now there are collections of these poems recorded after characters were created. In Chinese history throughout different dynasties, poetry is often expressed with musical or incantatory effects by means such as assonance, rhythm, onomatopoeia, etc.

The lyric of the Song Dynasty is one of the representative examples, which could be considered as written songs. Most of the poems do not even have their own title, but they are named after an original tune pattern. Composers and writers used this melody to write a new poem, which is the reason why we often see the same title for two different poems, like "Butterflies love blossoms", Man ting fang "Scent fills the hall", or "Lady Yu". There are more than 800 tune patterns.

During Song Dynasty, two different styles of poetry were developed, the "heroic abandon" and the "delicate restraint". Song Ci lyric became very popular even during the Qing Dynasty. There are some famous Song poets, like Wang Yucheng (954-1101), Liu Yong (980-1053), Yan Shu (991-1055), Wang Anshi (1021-1086), Huang Tingjian (1045-1105), Qin Guan (1049-1100), Li Qingzhao (1084-1155), Jiang Kui (1155-1221), etc.

The video clip presents an early form of Lyric in ancient China around 500 BC that is sung by a court dancer. It tells a story of a Chinese Cinderella that falls in love with a prince. Her performance expresses her affection and passion, in an emotional and elegant way.


  1. I watched the video clip you posted and I was struck by some specific features of her performance. The movement involved with the poem helped to express the emotions and tone. I thought the masks that people wore in the clip were very interesting because it disguised their true selves and let them be the faceless storytellers, or at least people portraying the face that they choose rather than their actual face. The masks make sense to me because it helps to create the same impersonal voice that I hear when I read a poem in a book.

  2. And I think, Bryanne, that performance is the key term here. Poetry as performance. What does that term imply, and how does it inform our understanding of what it means to write . . . anything, really? It's worthwhile to think about Whitman representing himself as--performing as--a "common" American. How might thinking of literature in terms of performance help us hear literature in a way that is not impersonal?

  3. I think that it is very important for poetry to be read aloud or performed. I think that most authors write poetry with the intension to have it spoken which is why they pay such close attention to meter and rhythm. This is also why it can easily be interchanged with song. I really enjoyed that video and the poem, because I think it gave it more meaning because she sang it.

  4. You make some very deep connections in the post, Lucy! Bryanne, what you said reminded me that in class we discussed the "I" in "Song of Myself" to no only reflect Whitman but America as a whole. Therefore, both Whitman and the masked dancers in this video clip represent "impersonal voices" that we should set aside when interpreting poetry. It all ties back to the question of whether or not the author/performer should be taken into consideration when reading/watching poetry.

    The video clip and the lyrics of the song are both beautiful and somewhat sad to me. To answer your question, Professor Fisher, thinking of literature as a performance can make it seem less impersonal because one of the main objectives of performers is to appeal to the viewer's emotions so that they are impacted by the performance and so that it stays with them even after the ending. Thus, the viewer forgets that they are watching a performance and thinks that the acting and emotions of the performers are real. I took a film class last semester, and this concept is known as "willing suspension of disbeief." It's interesting when you think of how fictional literature and performances are successful at making the audience overlook the fact that the story isn't real but still become engaged in it nonetheless.