Notes on the “Classic of Poetry”

Shi_Jing“The Classic of Poetry” Handwritten and illustrated by the Qianlong Emperor, Qing Dynasty (17th to 20th centuries)

Also translated as the “Book of Odes” or even the “Book of Songs,” the so-called “Classic of Poetry” (or Shi Jing) contains 305 poems, hymns, and songs that address a wide range of daily issues in ancient China. Traditionally, Kongzi (or “Master Kong” or “Confucius”) hand-selected each of these poems.

Like the books of Psalms or Proverbs, the “Classic of Poetry” is a compilation of much earlier folklore that appears to have been considered canonical around the era of the Han Dynasty in China (202 BC–220 AD).

Admittedly I did not read every poem in the collection, but rather I read through a variety of them. The poems are impressionistic, simple, and seemingly scattered with central theme or consistent message. Here is one example of one of the more famous poems that has broadly entered the public vernacular commonly in China:

关雎 Crying Ospreys

关关雎鸠,在河之洲。窈窕淑女,君子好逑。
Merrily the ospreys cry,
On the islet in the stream.
Gentle and graceful is the girl,
A fit wife for the gentleman.
(Translated by Yang Xianyi & Gladys Yang)

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