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Ci

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Tinker

Explore the Craft of Writing Poetry
Chinese Verse

Ci (pronounced tschi), sometimes referred to as "lyric songs" is a genre of Chinese lyrical verse originally set to music. It has over 800 verse forms of irregular line length, strict rhyme and tonal patterns which are known by song title for which the music itself has been lost. It has been defined as "a song without a tune" and the poetry is meant to be listened to rather than read. In other words, new lyrics were made up to fit the melody and rhythm of the lost songs, these lyrics make up Ci poetry.

The poems often appear simply as "To the Tune of (song title) (調寄[詞牌]), ", sometimes the poems include their own title such as "Painting Eyebrows to the Tune of Pouring out Deep Emotions". There are 875 song titles each song title is a different verse form. There are many different poems written "To the Tune of Pouring Out Deep Emotions" following the same set verse form. I could find no record in English defining any of the 875 verse forms. Of course, even if I had, the problem for an English speaker is the tonal patterns are completely lost on us.

Although Ci has roots in the Tang Dynasty it came into its own in the Song Dynasty (920-1279). Its Tang roots may explain why Ci continued to touch emotions when poetry of the Song dynasty was developing to appeal more to the intellect through form and wit. Originally the work was erotic but eventually the content became less crude dealing with more mainstream subjects as well as subjects previously never addressed in Chinese poetry. Ci allowed the use of everyday language. The verse forms eventually faded away making room for a form based on more contemporary songs and looser structure, Sanqu poetry (散曲).

To the Tune of "Dream Song"

I'll never forget sunset at Brook Pavilion---
drunk with beauty, we lost our way.
When the ecstasy faded, we turned our boat home,
but it was late and we strayed into a place deep
with lotus flowers
and rowed hard, so hard
the whole shore erupted with herons and gulls.
                               ~~Li Quingzhao (1084-1151) Known as China's finest woman poet, master of the ci.
                                   from The Anchor Book Chinese Poetry by Tony Barnstone and Chou Ping

采桑子--吕本中

恨君不似江楼月
南北东西
南北东西
只有相随无别离

恨君却似江楼月
暂满还亏
暂满还亏
待得团圆是几时

Tune: Picking Mulberry by Lu Ben Zhong

hen jun bu si jiang zhong yue
nan bei dong xi
nan bei dong xi
zhi you xiang sui wu bie li

hen jun que si jiang zhong yue
zan man huan kui
zan man huan kui
dai de tuan yuan shi ji shi

I wish you were but the moon in the water
south and west, north and east
south and west, north and east
just in my party and not to take your leave

I wish you were not the moon in the water
who waxes now and then wanes
who waxes now and then wanes
Till when we will be like the full moon again

----------------- translated by worm(Xiao-zhen)

 

 

And here is another poem to the Tune of Picking Mulberry, as you can see the structure is the same as the first poem although the subject is very different. I am told the Chinese poem carries the same tonal pattern as well as the stanza frame and rhyme.

丑奴儿---辛弃疾

少年不识愁滋味,
爱上层楼。
爱上层楼,
赋新词强说愁。

而今识尽愁滋味,
欲说还休。
欲说还休,
却道天凉好个秋。

Chou Nu Er --by Qiji Xin

ao nian bu shi chou zi wei                                    
ai shang ceng lou
ai shang ceng lou
wei fu xin ci qiang shuo chou

er jin shi jin chou zi wei
yu shuo hai xiu
yu shuo hai xiu
que dao tian liang hao ge qiou

In my youth I knew little woe
Up to a tower I'd like to go
Up to a tower I'd like to go
For a new poem I forced sorrow

Which now I perfectly know
But hardly could it be told
But hardly could it be told
I only say I'm glad the fall is cold
-------------thanslated by Xiao-zhen(worm)

 

A few of the 875 ci "song titles" or verse forms.

As in a Dream
Dream Song
Immortal by the River
Longing for Qin e
New Chrysanthemum Flowers
Phoenix Perched on the Parasol Tree
Poluomen Son
Pouring Out Deep Emotions
Rain Hits a Bell
Spring in the Tower of Jade

 


~~ © ~~ Poems by Judi Van Gorder ~~

For permission to use this work you can write to Tinker1111@icloud.com

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