Shijing and Chuci
Two of the most important collections of poems in the long history of Chinese literature are the Shijing (Book of Odes) and the Chuci (Songs of Chu). The Shijing is the oldest collection of Chinese poetry; it dates from the 10th through 7th centuries B.C., during the Zhou Dynasty, and Northern Chinese feudal nobility are thought to have authored most of the works. The poetry of the Shijing is not very complex; rather it is characterized for its realistic subject matter, which tended to be the many aspects of contemporary life of the time. The Shijing has four sections: "Daya" (Great Odes), "Xiaoya" (Lesser Odes), the "Guofeng" (Airs) and "Songs" (Hymns). The collection has been cut to and added to through the years; it is said that Confucius from an original body consisted of over 3000 poems, selected 305 poems for it.
The Chuci, on the other hand, originates from South China. Much of the earlier works in it, such as "Lisao," are credited to Qu Yuan (340 --278 B.C.), an under-appreciated official during the Warring States period kingdom of Chu. There is a religious theme in many of the poems of the Chuci, with shamanism as a prevailing theme, particularly in the "Jiuge" (Nine Songs).
Chinese poetry is difficult to understand and interpret, with the need for translation and cultural ignorance being two of the main culprits hindering a complete understanding. This paper will compare and contrast these two collections of poetry in order to gain a better understanding of Chinese poetry. In the attempt to do so, these two collections (with an emphasis on the Chuci) will be extracted, explored, and explicated.
The Shijing: "Great Odes" and "Smaller Odes"
The "Great Odes" consists of 31 poems. In general, the poems of the "Great Odes" take the form of 8 stanzas consisting of 8 lines per stanza. Many poems of the "Great Odes" are historical poems; the origins of the Zhou Dynasty and the great achievements of the Zhou rulers are reoccurring themes. Take "Spreading," which is an account of the settlement of the "plain of Zhou." Stanza three reads:
The Plain of Zhou was fat and fair,
Where thistle and buttercup tasted like honey.
There he started, there he reckoned, there he pierced our tortoise shells.
Stop, it was, and Stand, in this place they built houses.
In the later parts of this poem, there is a description of the Zhou city and the expansion of the kingdom by conquering surrounding kingdoms. There is almost an epic feel to this poem; the reader gets the sense that the founder (Dan-fu) of the Zhou is legendary.
"The Greater Brightness" is another example of a poem in the "Great Odes," gives an account of how the Zhou came to power through good deeds, strategic marriages, and by following the plan from the Charge of Heaven to rule. "The Greater Brightness." The beginning of the second stanza reads:
From Zhi the second daughter, Ren,
went from the land of Yin and Shang.
She came to marry...