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Getting to Know Some Poems and Their Related History


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Poem with own experience from site tour.


Chinese poem illustration: 鹿柴  The Deer Fence  by Wang Wei:  https://youtu.be/9ZFV02thkIs


One of the 20 poems on an extremely famous  painting(辋川图), the first kind artwork in Chinese history :  fusion of poetry and painting. It laid the foundation of Scholar Painting(文人画) which featured with scholar life in mountains and rivers, as well as poems on painting.


This long painting on a temple wall  depicted 20 view spots within Wang valley(辋川),  with 40 poems written by Wang Wei and his good friend Pei Di(裴迪), which is one poem for one view point per person. The collection of these 40 poems was named as  Wangchuan Ji(辋川集). It could be the most translated  Chinese classic poetry in foreign languages(See Wangchuan Ji in wikipedia).


This short ,simple and very subtle poem was interpreted in many ways through the history, yet  when I stepped on the ground of WangChuan, or Wang valley, looking up  to the  giant ginkgo tree  planted by Wang Wei, it seems to me the poem is crystal clear,  simple, peaceful and eternal.





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Today is Qi Xi, a Chinese Valentine day nowadays, this video is my celebration to Qi Xi.

Chinese poem illustration: 迢迢牵牛星 Far Far the Altair by Anonymous




The first poem that reveals the love story between Altair and Vega, a festival , Qi Xi festival , literally the Night of July 7th, since Han dynasty, a Musical department poem written 2000 years ago.

With very obvious simple and primitive wording, this poem is famous for it's sophisticated skill on reduplication, setting up the standard and favor for reduplication in Chinese classic poetry.

The Qi Xi Festival used to be a festival for girls , and today it become an excuse for lovers to celebrate, a Chinese Valentine's Day.










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Chinese poem illustration: 锦瑟 The Magnificent Se  by Li Shangyin




This poem is just like pearl and jade among the richness and glory of Tang poetry. It might not be the most popular poem, while it is regarded  as the best Tang poem  by poetry lovers, by poets through the 1200+ years Chinese history  afterwards.


The perfect wording, the  colorful images and  illusions, the mysterious subject almost impossible to decipher make this masterpiece also the greatest puzzle in Chinese poetry history.

This video is my personal approach to decipher this poem,  adding one more possibility to so many existing explanations of this poem:  wrapping up words of his whole life when is dying.

PS: The 3rd pair of sentences also expressed that  his feeling which is the tear drops of pearl is as deep as ocean, his spirit which is the smoke of jade would go beyond the huge mountains.








I had a article on this poem in Chinese as well: 此情今再忆,锦瑟五十年

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Thanks for bringing this poem by Li Shangyin. Your interpretation makes sense but, as you say, there are many possible alternative views. Do you have any explanation for the 锦  (brocade?) in 锦瑟?  


I don't understand Li Shangyin's poems but I like the words and imagery he uses, so I enjoy reading them and searching for explanations. I very much agree with Liang Qizhao (梁啟超, 1873-1929) :



"What Li Shangyin's poems are about I cannot determine. I cannot even explain the literal meaning line by line. Yet I feel they are beautiful, and when I read them, they give me a new kind of pleasure in my mind." 


For anyone interested in this poet, the quote above is from the Introduction in a 2018 book on Li Shangyin by Chloe Garcia-Roberts: Li Shang-yin (NYRB poets), which includes 3 different, and all equally beautiful English translations, of this particular poem. The poems in this book are in both Chinese and English. 


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"雄关漫道真如铁" this is the title of editorial article today on People's Daily, This title is from a poem by Chairman Mao 忆秦娥.娄山关. Below is my introduction to the first poem of 忆秦娥, a Writing pattern(词牌) created by Li Bai.


This intro video  is also my celebration to National day and Double Nine festival in Oct.1st and Oct.7th, wish you all a happy holiday.




Chinese poem illustration: 忆秦娥 箫声咽  Recall the Qin Princess | The Chinese Flute Cry by Li bai

Treated as the pillar and foundation of Ci(词,  "百代词曲之祖"),  not only for Li Bai created this writing pattern Recall the Qin Princess(忆秦娥), but more for the writing and feeling expressed.

The first glance of this poem turns out to be a Woman Worrying and Thinking of  type poetry(思妇怀人) which consist a big chunk of  Tang poetry. Normally It describe the  feeling of missing and complaining to her  lover or husband.  Most probably this feeling was a metaphor to the feeling of a dejected poet to his lord- the emperor of the time. The wife and the poet share a lot of commons, the loyalty to the  husband or emperor, the dejected family or political life. The emperor and the husband also share a lot commons, they dominate the fate or even life of their subordinate.

This poem does not like all other poems of this kind. It reflected nothing personal but  an average family who suffered hugely in the endless wars, the touching writing about family/friends parting would take every reader' heart away, if he or she have no idea of the bitterness of the war. It created a feeling and scenario familiar to almost everyone, and touching to everyone.

The second paragraph makes this poem absolutely outstanding: with the last two sentences, Li Bai concluded those miserables and fatal end are the fate for everyone under the emperor, for the emperor himself. This happened again and again through the thousand years of  history. 

The first paragraph let all readers share a common personal feeling, the second paragraph let the readers share a common ground with the awareness of the long history and country. That is the sympathy and great vision  Li Bai brought us, started as personal thinking of and complaining poetry , ended up with deep helpless to human's fate.


忆秦娥 箫声咽









屏幕快照 2019-09-26 10.09.48.png

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