Culture of Classical Poets: Arrogance as well as Incompetence

The Society Of Classical Poets Journal

This was the dominant form Chinese poetry took until modern times. The last time our country experienced a “crisis in the humanities,” it coincided precisely with the rise of literary theory in U.S. English and comparative literature departments in the 1970s and early ’80s.

Delighting themselves and their listeners, old poets recite Tang poems with the original pronunciation. Just as this month’s poems are half finished, the directors start to call out names one by one, giving out awards for last month’s efforts. Almost all of the poems that aren’t in the top three still get honorable mentions. The consolation prizes, covered smartly in wrapping paper, are either socks or toothpaste, and the grand prize is MSG! Laughing, people say that they can use it to enhance the flavor of their holiday cooking.

Next came the ci lyric poems, which were new lyrics written to existing melodies. Chu lyrics changed and became the fu, which is a poem that rhymes, except for the beginning and ending sections, which are written in prose. These were often in the poetical essay form, which has questions and answers. Examples of poetry from the Early Poetry period are found in the first major collection of Chinese poetry that is called Shi Jing. It is translated “Classic of Poetry” also called the Book of Songs. It contains aristocratic poems, or odes, and poetry from folk songs.

First, they are very much connected to traditional culture, because their style of poetry is closely related to the classics read in the Ming and Qing dynasties. Second, because the members of these societies don’t have a high level of education, the clubs are very much a part of local Taiwanese culture–virtual reflections of common Taiwanese society. “These poetry societies were not established in the modern academic era, and so they are representative of local temple fair society,” Chien says. It is in the songs on the radio, in our national anthems, and in the fight songs of our favorite sports teams; it pervades our literature, our history, and our culture. But, despite poetry’s abundance, poetry that is both new and good is hard to find now, more than ever. Such good, new poetry carries a message infused with the profound insights and lofty character of the poet.

Trying to fit it into a modern Westernized box is a far less rewarding exercise than simply marveling at what it can tell us about the tectonic plates shifting beneath our civilizations and cultures. For instance, the famous Chinese novel, Dream of the Red Chamber by Cao Xueqin, is entirely framed by a Buddhist monk and Taoist priest talking to each other and by ideas of karma, predestination, and reincarnation. The other famous Chinese novel, Journey to the West by Wu Cheng’en, takes pilgrimaging Buddhist monks as its main characters—just imagine if Prince Hamlet, Robinson Crusoe, and the Count of Monte Cristo were all Christian monks! That is the depths of the spirituality of Chinese culture before communism.

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