Vanilla beauty and the immortal Phoenix: exploring the poetry of Chu in China
22 JANUARY 2018
Along with Daoism, the ancient Chu culture has continued to the present day in China, although the Kingdom of Chu (c. 1115-223 BCE) was conquered by Qin, who founded the Qin Dynasty (c. 221-207 BCE), whose reign marked the beginning of two thousand years of feudalism in China. Chu originally began in what is Hubei province today, south of the Qin Mountains in central China. One of the greatest achievements of Chu is the anthology Songs of Chu, still relevant today.
To give a broader picture, Chinese ancient literature comes down to us from two sources, the Book of Songs compiled in the 5th century BCE and the Songs of Chu (or Songs of the South) compiled in the 1st century BCE. As a state, Chu had existed much earlier and exhibited an abundance of folk songs; even the Book of Songs opened with verses from the land of Chu. As an ethnic group, Chu mixed with indigenous people such as Tujia, Miao (Hmong), and so on, and merged into the Han during the Han Dynasty. The majority of the Songs of Chu were written by Qu Yuan (also spelled as Ch’u Yuan), the first great poet from Chu as well as the whole of China. The best way to introduce him to Western readers is by quoting a poem Ezra Pound imitated and modernized a hundred years ago:
AFTER CH’U YUAN
I will get me to the wood
Where the gods walk garlanded in wisteria,
By the silver-blue flood move others with ivory cars.
There come forth many maidens
to gather grapes for the leopards, my friend.
For there are leopards drawing the cars.
I will walk in the glade,
I will come out of the new thicket
and accost the procession of maidens.
—Ezra Pound 庞德
Vanilla beauty: the imagery of exile and nature poetry
[continue to the full text at Poetry International/Rotterdam]