Study Guide For Classic Chinese And Japanese Love Poetry

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Classical Chinese and Japanese poetry relates human emotions and sensations to images of nature. These images are prescribed by tradition, and have stereotypical associations which the reader is expected to know. In addition, complex word and sound play is common, little of it translatable, and most poems allude to or quote outright from other classic poems which it is assumed every reader has memorized. The result is that an English rendering of such verse is always a very distant relative of the original. It is a tribute to the greatness of Chinese and Japanese verse that it has been so popular and influential in modern times. Note that this poetry, like most pre-modern poetry, does not have titles, and that the titles provided have been invented by the translators. The vast majority of early love poetry written by women laments absent lovers. What do you think this says about womens status and role in society? All Chinese poems are from Kenneth Rexroth, trans. One Hundred Poems from the Chinese. New Directions, n. d. Despite the fact that Chinese traditional culture is not famous for promoting affection between spouses, there are many classical poems in which husbands grieve for their dead wives, a fact which reminds us of the importance of not overgeneralizing about cultures. In China it was thought that dead spirits continued to be profoundly involved in their familys lives. People were expected to pray to, talk with, and offer food to departed spirits. How is this belief reflected in this poem? In what roles does the widower particularly remember his wife? In the second stanza, what image suggests togetherness? What image suggests loneliness? She is of course the one who was with him then.
Fruit tree blossoms, particularly peach and cherry blossoms, are very important in Chinese and Japanese esthetics. They symbolize the rebirth of life in the early spring, but they last for only a few days, so they also symbolize the fleeting nature of life, a typically Buddhist notion. Why is the oncoming of spring not successful in cheering the writer? What does it mean to write a poem in which my tears will flow together with your tears? Why does her makeup and hairdress feel like a burden? Oil lamps begin to smoke if the burnt portion of the wick is not trimmed from time to time. Can you guess whether the person to whom this poem is addressed has voluntarily abandoned her or has been forcibly separated from her? How can you tell? What senses are used in the imagery in this poem? What is the time of year? The time of day? Wild swans, like ducks, can symbolize faithful lovers. Women lived in separate quarters in noble houses. which of the images suggests separation? Which reunion? What do you think it means for a love to descend from the eyebrows into the heart? Lu Yu: Pink and white hands like roses and rice cake! This is another heartbreak in the spring poem? Why is loneliness so poignant at this time of year? What two images ...

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