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Chinese Poems – Appreciation in the 21 Century__Kong Shiu Loon

Rendition by Kong Shiu Loon

INTRODUCTION

Poem Power
The Heritage
The Golden Era
Timeless Wisdom
For the 21 Century

Poem Power

More than one wise man had said that, while literature cannot quell hunger or pain, it provides courage to us as we endure difficulties, and see meaning in life. Nelson Mandela testified the power of a single poem, Invictus, which had helped him survive an unjust imprisonment for more than two decades, and triumphed in the task of uniting a sharply divided South Africa when he became President. His is a life which “symbolizes the triumph of human spirit over man’s inhumanity to man.”

Poetry combines music and language to touch the soul. Every poem represents the inner voice of a poet as he/she expresses the human spirit in the context of time, space, culture and the strife of life. Such a voice often finds resonance in individuals living in another land and time, magnified in volume and brilliance.

The way to appreciate the intellectual and affective powers of poetry is to read and feel. Contemplation on the meaning and mood of a poem can generate a peace of mind to decimate psychological pressure, and help us focus on clear purposes and responsibilities to achieve happiness.

Traditional Chinese poems are gems in a vast mine. Anyone ventures into it would be richly rewarded. They are also star constellations in the Milky Way, glittering to keep the darkest night in shine. The first Nobel Prize laureate, Sally Prudhomme wrote a poem on The Milky Way. For him stars shine with their warmest passion to keep the cold lonely sky bright; they are but human souls. Chinese poets also love to write about the Milky Way, to depict its immense space and distance, its proximity when measured by love and devotion. As the modern literati John Turner, S.J. said in his Golden Treasure of Chinese Poetry, Chinese poetry is “the high artistic peak of the most literary, the most artistic, and the longest-established civilization that exists.”

The poems presented in this collection are like a constellation in the Galaxy, small in number, yet prodigious in passion. They are poems that I have loved in the seventy years of my life as I drifted around the world, providing me with comfort and wisdom. The English rendition reflects my understanding and appreciation of the voices of the many poets who moaned and sang through thousands of years. The presentation in both Chinese and English provides a juxtaposition of the richness and beauty of the two languages.

This Introduction gives a sketch of the history and culture in which the poems existed and thrived.

The Heritage

The earliest anthology of Chinese literature is the Book of Poetry compiled in the Sixth Century B.C. These early poems depict the Chinese people as they evolved from their ancestors, the Peking Man, who lived four to five hundred thousand years ago.

The Shang people and their dynasty is the historic demarcation between the ancient primitive phase of the Chinese people, and their historic and civilized phase of development. The former is the Neolithic Era, when written language was not yet invented. The latter, which began about the Eighteenth Century B.C., is marked by the invention of pottery, and the linguistic narration of myths, legends and songs. In between these times existed the Hsia Dynasty of 21--16 centuries B.C. Culture and civilization developed slowly, and progress was seen in periods of a thousand years or more.

However, slow progress has its special characteristics, usually marked by creations of lasting value. Today, we appreciate the beauty and wisdom embedded in many early potteries and bronzes. The wok, a common cooking utensil, was invented in ancient times. Its technology lasted until today, with no need for alteration or improvement. The same is true with poems which tell about how our ancestors lived, reasoned, felt, imagined and worshiped.

The Book of Poetry has three sections, containing 160 songs, 105 odes, and 40 hymns respectively. The Songs were sung by folks in the huge extent of land along the Yellow River. The Royal Musicians collected and edited them into the present form. Today, as we appreciate these songs for their literary beauty, we may also keep in mind that they had a musical beauty as well, sung in languages which we no longer know. The fact that we can still use the Putonghua or other modern dialects to recite them with good rhyme testifies their rich and lasting beauty.

The Odes are songs for ceremonies and festivals. They were collected and edited by historians and official diviners. The Hymns were written for the ruler, to praise his good deeds, and to advise him to do better. The authors/composers were leaders in different offices of the government. As these hymns evolved, they became songs for sacrificial rites in honour of ancestors and gods.

Regardless of type, the poems depict daily activities, human relationships, love, fear, and a sense of time and space as they impinge on feelings of happiness, sorrow, fairness, injustice, longings, intimacy, aspirations, disappointments and hope.

By the time Confucius came along, education became a vital force in keeping society in order, prosperity and progress. The Book of Poetry became a basic text for the education of the gentleman (good person). Confucius was convinced that, unless a person is well versed in poetry, he would not be an effective thinker or communicator.

The Verse of Chu emerged as Qu Yuan (340-278 B.C.) came along during the Warring States. It is the earliest collection of Chinese romantic poems, mostly written by Qu Yuan and Song Yu.

A man of diverse talents Qu Yuan served his king as confidant and diplomat. But he was a poet more than a politician. His autobiographic poem, Li Shao, depicts his disappointment and unsettled mind at being estranged by the undiscerning King of Chu, whom he served with undivided loyalty. The 368 verses reveal the poet in conflict and bewilderment of the contradictions in himself, and between his ideals and the reality. He lived in torment. And he died by leaping into the Milo River, a disappointed soul.

However, Qu Yuan is the only poet remembered widely and affectionately by people in China and Korea, with celebrations of the Duanwu Festival and dragon boat races, now a world heritage event. His death is not considered to be a tragedy, like the Greek and Shakespearean tragedies. There is neither beauty nor lesson in it. Indeed, resolute loyalty to the sovereign is, in time, not regarded as a virtue.

Qu Yuan’s greatest contribution to his country lies in poetry. He succeeded the literary heritage of the ancients, and developed it into a new tradition of style and content. He was superb in the use of language, measuring the power of every word in depicting the human heart and intellect. He set the tradition of using a single word in repetition, using its sound and meaning to pound on the reader’s emotion. This technique was later used by many poets, notably Li Qing Zhao and Lu You.

Qu Yuan also set the stage for Chinese poetry with the liberal use of metaphors, linking human moods and feelings with flowers, grass, trees, winds, rains, seasons, sun, moon, cloud, sky, rivers and hills, thus endearing human beings with nature. For him the sovereign was a symbol of beauty and good, and the perfect man was simply a beauty (as mei ren, a beautiful lady). It was because of these signal contributions that he is regarded as the father of poetry and narration.

The intellectual Qu Yuan questioned everything in the universe and in the human mind. Central in these questions were the meanings of time which binds life in all its activities, emotions and aspirations, ending abruptly in death. However, for Qu Yuan, a person’s spirit or soul continues after death, to roam freely, even to function purposefully in the universe and among men, transcending time, space, physical matters and abstract thoughts. This is the fundamental belief of all Chinese, be they followers of Confucius, Lao Ze or, at a later date, Buddhism. Human beings are responsive and responsible masters, as they live and seek meaning in an environment of which they are an integral part.

The Nine Hymns and the Nine Elegies show Qu Yuan’s skilful use of the Chinese language in its sound, form and meaning constellations. The former are songs in the form of suggestive drama in which a male or female Shaman in elaborate clothes and make-ups sing and dance most colourfully, inviting the gods for encounters. It is all about love, in its sensual and eternal dimensions. The Nine Elegies are songs to glorify the ideal man. Among the poems in this collection are rich and wide descriptions of the finest human character, as depicted in the Ode to the Orange.

In 1953 the World Peace Council held an elaborate event to commemorate “the four greatest cultural figures in history to be remembered by the world”. Qu Yuan was one of the four. Since then, his poems had been translated into no less than fourteen languages. He became a poet of the world.

The Golden Era

The Tang and Song dynasties are the golden ages in Chinese history, with the greatest inventions, the fearless opening of the mind, and the most imaginative poetic and artistic expressions. These intellectual and cultural achievements were built on the solid foundations of diligent strivings of our ancestors during the preceding millennia, including the acceptance and integration of wisdoms of other peoples.

The acceptance and integration of Buddhism was a big event. The active interactions of the Chinese with peoples from other parts of Asia and Europe were another. Buddhism was first introduced to China around the time of the birth of Jesus Christ. It immediately attracted positive attention. Chinese scholars took Buddha’s basic outlook of life and enriched it with indigenous beliefs. By the Jin Dynasty (265-420) Buddhist monks were able to embrace the new Chinese spirit to influence Buddhism in India.

The integration of the two great ancient thoughts led to a wider and deeper perspective of life and the universe. It also brought about a rich and practical understanding of time and eternity, love and compassion, self and others, charity and devotion, understanding and communication, as well as life and death.

Prior to this, education had laid the foundation for these perspectives and visions to thrive. The Qin Dynasty (221BC-206BC) had unified China into a first empire. But the emperor was afraid of the literati. He suppressed free thought and burned the classics. He was soon defeated. Lu Bang emerged and found the Han Dynasty (206BC-220AD) which lasted for 400 years, in relative peace and stability. He wrote notable poems, and his dynasty was significant enough that the Chinese people are henceforth called Hans.

The Three Kingdoms followed, then the Jin and Shu dynasties. The Tang Dynasty ensued. It opened the Chinese mind in many respects, and began the golden era for poetry. However, historians will note that, in the period of some 800 years before; Chinese poetry had already gone through monumental progress. And almost all the rulers of the various political reigns were either great poets, or promoters of poetry and intellectual aspirations.

Education and literature flourished at times of war and peace, national division and unity. Beginning with the Han Dynasty, the Confucian Classics and the Book of Poetry were together used as the basic texts for all learners, in or out of schools. The civil service system was established to ensure that people who ruled were both knowledgeable and compassionate. During the reign of Emperor Wu, a Music Bureau was set up to systemically collect folk songs and other musical expressions. These activities gave rise to the Verse of Chu and other lyrical works, the beginning of romanticism.

Romanticism is the ultimate expression of human freedom, unlimited by material constrains, power or supernatural proscription. It belongs to imagination grounded in close observation and reflection of practical strives, leading to spiritual fulfilment. Thus, Chao Chao used the metaphor of a spent horse, wishing to gallop holding its head high, to express the power of the will. And later, Tao Qian wrote pastoral poems to defy official power and mundane material greed. This tradition, when complemented by the Buddhist spirit, found serene expressions in the poems of Wang Wei, Meng Hao Ren, Li Bai and others. Since then, mountains and moons were frequent metaphors for emotions, sometime in expressions of loneliness and longing, at other times, as affectionate companionship. Partnership between man and nature was thus reinforced, creating in the former a sense of humiliation, respect, and beauty.

Time took centre stage in almost all poems, be they expressing lament for parting, delight in togetherness, or fancy in life’s temporal and eternal meanings. Zhang Ruo Shi’s verses of “Who first saw the moon rise by riverside, Which year was man first graced by moonshine? Generation after generation man change and thrive, Year in year out the moon looks alike.” convinced us of the continuity of time in nature and human beings. And Yue Fei, the Song Dynasty hero, advised us that “Youthful wills must not be wasted in greying, forever regret.” For Zhang Xiao Xiang, time and space existed in celestial grandeur. They could be appreciated to enhance happiness by disregarding their artificial measures, as his lines attest: “How I’d like to take the Yangtze for cooking water, And wield the Dipper my spatula, To share a feast with my celestial roomer. I beat my bulwark in tune with my croons. What date is this night who cares to know.

And human experience and relationships could indeed be eternal. As expressed by Li Bai in “Drinking Alone in Moonlight”, and by Su Shi in “Tune of Prelude to Water Melody”. Could love between two persons become permanent on the basis of a promise? Qin Guan believed so. All that need be done is to refrain from measuring togetherness by hours and days.

Chinese poetry is unique in a number of ways. First is the language, being pictorial, phonic and stylish. Second is its close association with music. Almost all poems are tied to musical forms or tunes. Thirdly, most well-known poets were scholars cum government leaders, whose poetic expressions often reflect history and culture as they evolved over time. Thus, we feel the human experience of history as we read poems through different times.

The musical dominance in poems surged after the downfall of the Tang Dynasty in 907. In the ensuing new divided empire, poets were no longer confined to palace offices and court rules. They began to adopt a free life style, and their feelings became more refine and delicate. More lyrical tunes and an irregular line-length structure replaced the regulated Tang verse. As the Five Dynasties transited into the State of Shu and Southern Tang, Buddhist beliefs filled in people’s disturbed minds with new imagination and hope.

Life became more transparent and accommodating, open to the multicultural influence of Central Asia, India and Myrammar. The Tang Dynasty had China expanded north beyond the Great Wall and west into Asian Minor. Territorial outreach brought about food technologies, belief systems, people, arts and music. Music received the injection of new tunes and instruments. The Song Ci, which henceforth so vivaciously expanded the poet’s emotional reaches into the breath and depth of human emotions, began to mature. It quickly became resonant among all singers, be they poets or common folks. Quite a number of famous poets, like Li Bai and Yuan Zhen, were not ethnic Hans. And the popular tune Buddhist Dancer was Myranmar in origin.

Li Yu, the disposed ruler of Southern Tang, was the first notable lyric poet. His expressions of personal loss, and historic regrets, eventually became a universal symbol of time in its temporal and eternal dimensions, interrupted but continuous.

The Song Dynasty was a turbulent time. Years of war resulted in a division between north and south. However, as the northern lords and the middle class were driven south, they found a fertile land of diverse developmental potentials. In time, the entire country thrived because of the vitality of the south, and the cultural integration of the northern tribes. The mixing of peoples and cultures brought about a creativity unsurpassed by previous times.

In poetry, the combined use of short tunes and long tunes in a single poem enables the expression of emotions to unlimited freedom. Emotions from feelings of self, as well as those pertaining to life in general, could be expressed in their secular, intellectual, religious, and artistic contexts. From Yan Shu to Liu Yong to Su Shi, Song Ci expanded the poetic reflection of life and death, the self and community, man and his universe into new platforms, adding layers of time, space and richness to meanings of the human mind.

Liu Yong, whose poetic artistry attracted the envy of the Emperor who failed him in his imperial examination, was famed in the use of long lyrics and slow tunes. The use of 70 to 240 words could fully express any content. When accompanied by the pipa, zither or clapboard, a lyric singer could express the most intimate or complex feelings with enough undulation and amplification. Liu Yong was so popular that his poems were sung by people of all ages and walks of life.

However, it was for Su Shi to broaden the scope of the Song Ci, in content and tune. His style is exuberant and spontaneous, expounding at the same time feelings in their personal and universal contexts, virile and unrestrained. An intellectual who integrated Confucian, Daoist and Buddhist outlooks of life into a single perspective, Su Shi combined painting, calligraphy and poems into a unified art form, thus opening a new tradition in Chinese aesthetic expression. He was leader of the “heroic school” of lyrical poetry. But he also wrote poems in practical, intimate ways, especially in the many poem letters to his younger brother who was also a noted poet.

WenTian Xiang, the prime minister who fought the Tartar invaders in 1275, wrote the last heroic poems of the Song Dynasty. He lost his battle on his way through the Ocean near Hong Kong, and was executed in 1282. With it the Mongol rule established the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368). Song-poems emerged. They were designed to tell the drama of a people under iron rule. From then on, Chinese literature entered a new era of great novels, narrated by a mix of prose and poems. Romance of the Western Chamber by Wang Shi Fu and, in the Qing Dynasty, A Dream of the Red Mansions by Cao Xue Qin, was both famous for the poetic expressions of diverse contents and emotions.

I am not going to name any more poets in this short introduction. If I did, I would be showing disrespect to the hundreds of poets in history. All poets used poem writing as a medium in search of meanings of life. Every poet revealed feelings and understandings which are unique to his/her conditions of life, and extrapolated from a time and space that was particular, to formulate a transcendent qi (air, essence) that is the totality of a larger life. This qi is concrete and abstract, reachable intellectually and emotionally. It can also be a mere imaginative construct. Such is the richness of our traditional poetry that I hope, with this English rendition; it will help more people to appreciate it as part of the cultural legacy that marks our identity.

Timeless Wisdom

Traditional Chinese poets all shared a unique understanding and outlook of life and the universe. In it heaven, earth and man are one, interdependent and mutually respectful. There are many other forces in the universe that are three in one. There are also operational dichotomies which need be balanced, like yin and yang. Central in this outlook of life is the achievement of an ease of mind, an, and harmony among man and between man and nature, he.

Historically, the wisdoms of Laozi, Confucius, and Buddhist are in synergy, guiding the Chinese people in a way of life that is at once practical and transcending. Humanity is understood with human beings in a supreme place in the universe, not because of any ordained rights, but because of our innate tendency to strive to better ourselves and our environment. We believe that “when the universe is in good order, man strives incessantly and treat all matters with virtue”. That means every person is responsible to do good, individually, and in cooperation with others. In doing so, human beings are equal to the sky and the earth, in a concept of three in one. The sky includes everything and every force that are up there that we see or imagine. The earth has mountains and rivers, plants and animals, as well as the nourishing soils that we so intimately depend, that we must also defend.

In personal growth and development, every person must go through three stages to reach fulfilment, namely, to cultivate the self, to raise a family, and to contribute to community. Human beings also function in three psychological states, all at the same time. They are states of extension, moderation, and relaxation. Moderation is the key. We extend moderately, and we relax without exuberance. The yin and yang balance is achieved with moderation and change, in perception as in behaviour. We hold stability and peace as the ideal state of life.

Human beings are time-binding. We manage time, and time affects us. Our ancestors recognized the power and nature of time long ago. They developed a culture which emphasises the maintenance of three concrete time systems united in a continuum. These include tradition, dao (way of life), and bloodline. Tradition should be revered and kept. The way of life should follow the established dao. And bloodline should be unconditionally loved and maintained. Thus, every person is expected to “know the tradition and teach it to the young”, as well as to “continue what went before as a foundation for developing the future”. Because everyone must be responsible for his doings and aspirations in recognition to those of others, individualism dose not thrive in this humanity. Instead, we value humble and sharing attitudes, because they generate a harmonious relationship for peace and stability.

Perhaps it is easier to understand all these by seeing how poets use a wide range of metaphors to express this outlook of life. Here are some examples.

The moon, in crest or full, shining bright or dim, is used to denote eternity, transcending time and space, and therefore allowing people who are separated to feel together, being far apart yet intimately close. The moon exists in constancy, comforting everyone who is troubled by change and instability. It is also an agent for nostalgia.

The sun rises and sets regularly, representing order that must be accepted, just as life and death. But sunset gives brilliance in light and colour, just as old age could be illuminating and contributive. The beauty of a sunset is just as enchanting as hopes and promises inherent in a sunrise. The sun gives life and vitality. The moon sooths feelings and promises hope.

Clouds denote freedom in action as in imagination. They are symbols of aspiration and relaxation; nothing could be more leisurely as a floating cloud from nowhere to nowhere. Clouds come and go, not limited by time of day, or change of seasons. They reflect light and beauty against different hues in the sky. They also provide shades against the severity of a burning sun. “Free as a cloud” is an expression common to all cultures. For Chinese poets, however, clouds are free because it has its own will.

Winds define directions, usually related to the location of loved ones, the motherland, or a political force. They could be gentle and soothing, or cruel and menacing, as they interact with people and plants. Winds are also wilful, often used to represent massive forces of people or history. The wind also carries imaginations and ambitions high and far, as expressed by Zhongzi in the flight of his legendary big bird

Water is both strong and weak. It fills all low places and runs incessantly, across time and space. Confucius used it to denote the innate striving force of man. Poets test their imagination by relating streams and rivers to life in its multifarious states and aspirations, its tenacity in conquering and containing almost everything. A moon in a river keeps a lonely person company with its physical closeness. And Li Bai simply invites the moon for a drinking mate. For a Zen poet, casting a fishing line in a serene river to catch stars is not an act of futility. Rather, it is a way to learn about life in concert with nature. Water is the symbol of continuity, wisdom, and immortality.

Mountains represent what is sublime and accommodating. Confucius had a personality that is like a tall mountain. You look up to him. For Wang Wei, an empty mountain means serenity, with all that space for himself, totally undisturbed, except the nice chips of distant birds. But mountains separate people, especially before aeroplanes. They also represent powerful forces that roam across boundless plains. They nest unlimited mystery, house hermits and saintly monks, and allow sound to echo. A vesper from a distant mountain signals not only time of day, but also a time for respite, from daily toils, or from the hustles and bustles of life.

Trees and flowers are often personified to describe character, beauty, will power, emotions and life forces. Beginning with Qu Yuan, flowers and seasons, flowers and food, flowers and scent are used to depict anything from ideals to death. The range is huge, and examples strain extrapolation. “Parting grief is like grass in the spring, they grow wherever you roam”.

Rain and drizzle, snow and mist are popular metaphors for moods, especially as they linger across time, intensifying sorrow and longing, love unfulfilled, and hopes approaching despair. Emotions could be delicate and fleeting, or deep and perpetually lingering. Drizzles give a quality to time that no other metaphor can match. They are dripping, incessant, wet and cutting on nerves. They enter deep into the soul to stir, especially in a state of helplessness.

Chinese poets often communicate in transcendental ways, probably influenced by Zen Buddhism and the concepts of Laozi and Zhongzi, equating have to have not, exalting the power of silence and space. Zen masters communicate without words, using a smile or a cane instead. Daoists love to use meditative telepathy or the sharing of dreams. For both groups, knowing is initiative and self-directed more than being taught, a belief embraced by modern psychology. Thus, Chinese poems use words sparingly. Very often, ideas and messages are contained in what is not said than said. This gives the reader a lot of room for deliberation and interpretation. It makes the appreciation active rather than passive, creative rather than mundane. A poem of four lines and a total of twenty words could express a torrent of emotions cutting across time and space, and involving many people and deeds, gains and losses, confidence and fear, satisfaction and regret, love and hate. A single verb can convey many layers of meaning when used skilfully, ignoring conventional grammar.

With the additional use of legends, history, astrology, and lore, Chinese poets display their creativity to present readers with wonders of the mind in its reach for secular beauty and spiritual ascension. Their works await our appreciation.

For the 21 Century

From primitive times to now, human beings everywhere have wished, and worked hard, to reach two goals in life. The first is to maintain a comfortable life without excessive labour. The second is to be happy and free. These goals are achieved in relationship with others, regulated by time.

The Industrial Revolution brought about the first gleams of hope for ridding heavy labour. Then, we got elated when the five-work-day week became a reality in recent years. But, we are anything but free.

Many studies have shown that people of all walks of life and ages are now spending more hours doing work. Analyses show that, in one way or another, people commonly complain about being busy and not having enough time. Time pressure has resulted in the development of psychological stress, a health and life “killer” which is now affecting people of all ages, beginning from infancy.

We are also compressing time into smaller measures, as in microseconds. Our natural senses cannot recognise these measures. But we are compelled to respond, and to work faster and do more. For a lot of people at work or in school, coping to do what is required has reduced them to be mere slaves, a stressful status on its own. We escape stress with holidays, designed for recreation. However, when recreation has become an industry, it too is a source of stress because people need to plan and pay for it.

To be happy and free is a state of mind which comes from being competent and satisfied in working, as well as feeling affectionate and harmonious with family and friends. It is self-directed rather than given. The family is the most important source of happiness. Unlike animal families which have the single purpose of ensuring species perpetuation, the human family has many purposes, not the least is to serve as the building block for community. For the Chinese, the family ensures continuity of love and aspirations, culture and hope, and the kind of spiritual ascendance which makes human beings supreme. Parents do not only teach their young how to survive. They teach them to be better. Only so would there be progress. Only so would time be mastered to give ideas and feelings their lasting value.

The family is the only place where growing individuals could learn to love unconditionally, to experience intimacy, to share, to care, to nurture compassion, and to live lifes larger than self. Practically, the family enable a person to test and build happiness. Ultimately, it is in the family that we realize personal satisfaction and fulfilment, the highest form of human needs.

Today, our families are in disarray all over the world. Ironically, the rate of family breakdowns tends to increase parallel with the rate of prosperity and technological progress. Marriage breakdowns hurt future generations in more ways than we dare to admit. They sever the continuity that is basic to human growth and wellbeing. They create confusion in self-identity and basic human relationships. They precipitate remorse and guilt which entrench deep in the unconscious. They deprive children a normal growth path. With so much damage to the human psych, need we question whether a society is healthy and happy and free when family breakdowns are a norm than exceptions?

We now live in an abnormal one-world society. Just as we enter the second decade of the 21 century, we witness the richest and most powerful nation borrowing money from the rest of the world in higher volume and mounting speed, thus putting its future to pawn. We also became aware that this same nation is printing money free of upper limits, knowing well that its currency is in world circulation. These are the new realities which will haunt every individual and groups for a long time to come.

In 1989, UNESCO invited the world’s most powerful minds, all living Nobel Laureates, for a week-long seminar. They were charged with the responsibility of guiding us forward in the 21 Century for survival and prosperity. In the Paris Declaration published after the seminar, it suggested that if we were to survive the new century, we would do well to learn from the millennial wisdom of Confucius, among others. It is the wisdom of respect and harmony, tolerance and humility, family and love, fulfilment and happiness.

As an educator, Confucius had encouraged the study of poetry at any level. Traditional poems express the purpose and aspirations of the poets who wrote them. They speak of the turmoil and triumph of individuals and communities through history, as people endeavour to enshrine life and death with meaning and value. For the poets, time is not measured by the ticking of the clock, or the passing of days and years, but by thoughts and feelings. Space is not logged by distance. It exists in the relationship between people and their devotion to one another. Physical time and space can separate loved ones. But love can also conquer separation. Poets feel and speak like we do. But they express their varied feelings with sensitivity and hope. And they convey their thoughts to earn our understanding and empathy.

This rendition of traditional Chinese poems is presented for introducing our readers to the truth and richness of the Chinese culture, as expressed by poets through the ages. For readers like the lucky Wahyanites who know both Chinese and English, seeing the poems juxtaposed in two languages may help to inspire a deeper appreciation of their beauty and powers.

The enjoyment is not limited to aesthetics. It is a way of life that is serene and harmonious. Reciting some of these poems will lead us to see life as it should be, a love of nature and family, a cultivation of attitudes towards work and play, and the balance of self and others in a concerted effort to build a better future for all. An appreciation of beauty is not only for the nurturing of mind and body. It is a way to fulfillment and satisfaction, leading to happiness. In sharing this precious heritage of our Chinese culture, I hope you will help engender the same sharing among friends and children for a greater happiness.

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