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Poetry in Classical Chinese


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We've been reading quite a bit of prose here lately, but Classical Chinese was also used to write some of world literature's best-loved poetry, so I thought it would be nice to have a thread featuring some highlights of this genre. I'll try to post a poem every day or so. To kick off, here's perhaps 孟浩然's masterpiece, 春曉:

春眠不覺曉,

處處聞啼鳥。

夜來風雨聲,

花落知多少。

See also this thread by Hofmann. And please feel free to post any questions, remarks or your own favourite poems!

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Thanks, Daan, that's my favourite Classical poem, we even sang it in the Classical Chinese course back in university :help

Also let me post the Japanese reading of this, since it is a classic:

春眠暁を覚えず 

Shunmin akatsuki o oboezu

処処啼鳥を聞く 

Shosho teichō o kiku

夜来風雨の声 

Yarai fūu no koe

花落つること知んぬ多少ぞ

hana otsuru koto shinnu tashō zo

Edited by chrix
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Here is the tone pattern.

春眠不覺曉 heu上

平平仄仄仄

處處聞啼鳥 teu上

仄仄平平仄

夜來風雨聲

仄平平仄平

花落知多少 ɕeu上

平仄平平仄

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春曉

It's better to be read in non-Mandarin dialects, since it's Classical Chinese. Using Japanese will be a bit confusing, because it's inflected, and doesn't follow the rhythm & rhyme of original Chinese [if you add in the hiragana for the inflections, etc...]. Reading the Chinese characters as is without the hiragana would sound funny.

Here's what the romanized Cantonese version looks like towards the bottom from Wikipedia:

Standard Cantonese Pinyin. This is in Jyutping romanization of Cantonese.

春眠暁を覚えず 

Shunmin akatsuki o oboezu

処処啼鳥を聞く 

Shosho teichō o kiku

夜来風雨の声 

Yarai fūu no koe

花落つること知んぬ多少ぞ

hana otsuru koto shinnu tashō zo

Since it's not in the original Chinese characters, it's not a classic, but rather a revision of the classic into Modern Japanese.

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It's not Modern Japanese, but Classical Japanese, and it is Classical Chinese as it was read in Japan. Of course it was displayed differently, but that's beside the point (and the capability of the forum software) here.

But that wasn't the point, the point was that that was how the Japanese enjoyed the Classical Chinese poetry, and they did so despite losing all these rimes and rhythms :shock:

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Didn't they also read it directly with on-yomi? Like...

春眠不覺曉

shun min futsu kaku kyō

...or something. That way they'd at least get the 入聲.

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(不: fu)

Well, sure some did, but with the rapid decline of bilingualism in Japanese/Chinese it became common to read Classical Chinese in a Japanified fashion, with syntactic rearrangement signalled by diacritical marks and Japanese particles and verbal endings added as well. To this day Japanese schoolchildren learn both Classical Japanese and this type of Japanified Classical Chinese

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Here's what the romanized Cantonese version looks like towards the bottom from Wikipedia:

Standard Cantonese Pinyin. This is in Jyutping romanization of Cantonese.

That was in SCP. Jyutping is here. If I were reading it though, I would probably use alveolo-palatal initials for 春, 處, 聲, 知, and 少, and also use /diu2/ for 鳥.

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While we're talking about this poem, a couple of grammatical points:

春眠不覺曉

here the subject of 覺 is not 春眠 but the narrator.

夜來風雨聲

What's the grammatical function of 聲 here? And what's the subjet of 來?

Some translations of this poem seem to interpret this is as a flashback, "now I remember the night before, the storm", is there anything in this line to justify this kind of reading?

花落知多少

I think here again a person not mentioned is the subject of 知, many translations use an interrogative pronoun.

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realmayo

There were some recent posts on this thread about a book, initially a set of free pdfs, called Chinese Through Poetry. There's little on this poem, although the book's author Archie Barnes does mention the 知。 So I thought it can't hurt to quote:

Here we have an unusual use of the quatrain, though we shall see its mirror image in the third poem in Unit 12. It describes the process of waking up in four successive stages: first, unconsciousness; second, the awakening of sensory perception; third, the awakening of memory; and fourth, the awakening of rational thought, giving full daytime consciousness.

I shall only mention that spring is the season of new growth, just as dawn is the coming of new light; but the fall of spring blossom from the trees is a common symbol of the brevity and evanescence of human life. The word 知 ‘I wonder’ brings a note of helplessness in the face of heartless Nature; it was used in this way especially in the song-style poetry of the Sung dynasty.

As for me, I admire this poem but I can't bring myself to like it. Maybe I find it just too direct in its sadness. But I have no such problem with other Chinese poems that touch on similar themes.

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realmayo

Chrix:

"now I remember the night before, the storm", is there anything in this line to justify this kind of reading?

I know you asked about the grammatical function of 聲 (声). But for me it has relevance in terms of the flashback/memory translation that you mention.

Without 聲 at the end of the line, the line just describes the storm as having taken place overnight. But I think that by talking about the of the storm, it throws the emphasis onto how the storm was experienced by our narrator:-- ie while he was sleeping (or trying to sleep). Hence the "awakening of memory" in that third line.

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realmayo, what you posted about the four stages of waking up makes a lot of sense to me, so I think it explains why it should be taken as referring to the past. But there's nothing specific to the grammar, is there? My Classical Chinese dictionary does list 夜來 with the meaning of "last night", but I wonder how this came to mean that....

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Perhaps it's a presentative sentence? We also see them in Mandarin sometimes, eg, 昨天来了个老外.

Here's another good poem, Jia Dao's 尋隱者不遇.

松下問童子,

言師採藥去;

只在此山中,

雲深不知處。

I'm wondering if anyone else spotted the structural ambiguity in the title?

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well, it later also means just "yesterday" as in 「夜來八月十五日」. Unfortunately the only example the dictionary gives for "last night" is this poem, so it's hard to say...

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Although I think 夜來風雨花落知多少 would work (夜來風雨 being a topic and 花落知多少 being a comment), I think the 聲 serves many beneficial functions, for example, to note the experience of the narrator last night, and to fill space.

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book, initially a set of free pdfs, called Chinese Through Poetry. There's little on this poem, although the book's author Archie Barnes does mention the 知。

Heh, I'm reading this book and this poem is exactly as far as I've got for now :)

Anyway, there's a bit more on this usage of 知 (as "I wonder") in the preceding grammatical lesson. Basically the author says that it's an (illogical) abbreviation of 不知 that still implies "I DON'T know" despite the loss of negative.

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I'd like to post a poem that is elegant, easy to understand, and not one of the pre-school basics:

夜雨寄北

李商隐

君问归期未有期,巴山夜雨涨秋池。

何当共剪西窗烛,却话巴山夜雨时。

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