ANCIENT CHINESE POETRY.*
BEFORE the inrush of the Romans had stirred the fiery patriotism of Coritanian, Icenian, and Trinobant, and welded them into one, before the Druidic religion had arisen, even before the Britons had emerged from barbarism, or ceased to dye themselves
with woad in the woods, China had a literature. Nay, it had already become part of a social and political system, so closely compacted that religion itself was made subservient to its coherency—a fact which has not ceased to this day to mark Chinese development. For there, in a stricter sense than anywhere else, religion depends upon morality, first based on the filial sen- timent, and then expanding into relation with paternal types of government, the one rising above the other, till at last it reaches the Emperor himself, who is pre-eminently the most sacred of parents, and when he passes away, is the most reverently wor- shipped of ancestors. This is the key to Chinese civilisation, and it is like the opening up to us of a new world to be introduced to a type of life and manners—settled, civilised, refined—which had created for itself a recognised national literature before the date of the Book of Job. For this She-King, though it often seems to reflect the latest moods, and to reprove even the fashionable frivolities of the present day, dates back to the remotest antiquity. Its direct practical air, its occasional ironical turn, its quaint reproofs of artificial indulgences and forms of vice that are now too common, give it largely the tone of a book of the nineteenth century. It cannot, then, fail to be of interest to look at it for a little with some care.
Dr. Legge, in his introduction, tells us that the She-King was certainly in existence in nearly its present form in the sixth century before Christ. The grand masters were instructed to teach the six classes of poems, and the grand music-master was commanded every fifth year, when the Son of Heaven made a progress through the kingdom, to lay before him the poems col- lected in the States of the several quarters, as an exhibition of the manners of the people. Some of the odes—the Sacrificial Odes of Shang—date back to between B.C. 1765-1722, others to the time of King Wan, i.e., between 1184-1134, but the bulk of the odes belong to the period extending from 1121 to 700. It needs to be noted that the China of those days geo- graphically formed but a section of the China of to-day. The present form of the She-King, which really means "book," or "binding together of poems," we owe to the labours of Confucius, who first elevated the collection to the level of a religious text- book. He carefully edited and annotated the collection, though it would not appear that he did much more than this. It lias been said that in its earlier stage it consisted of over 3,000 pieces, and that he selected from these, but Dr. Legge believes, and we think proves, that "he did no work at all to which the -name of compilation could be applied." His reverence for the work was extreme. He made it incumbent on his disciples to study it, urging that "a man ignorant of the Odes was like one who stands with his face towards a wall, limited in his views, and unable to advance. Of the two things which his son could specify as particularly enjoined upon him by the sage, the first was that he should learn the Odes." And his followers in this were not unfaithful, for when the Chinese classics were destroyed, under the edict of the Tyrant of Win, the She-King was restored from the memories of scholars. It was raised to higher honours than before, professors were paid to comment upon it, and were wont to weave around it such fantastical mean- ings as Dr. Legge is fain to discredit, though he here and there detects allusive or metaphorical references. He prefers, however, to go no further, in most eases, than the meanings which lie on the • The She-King; or, the Book of Ancient (Chinese) Poetry. Translated into English Verse, with Essays and Notes, by James Legge, D.D., LL.D. London: Trilbner and Co.
face of the odes. They are all in rhyme, and rhyme, Dr. Legge tells us, has always been a characteristic of verse in China—all the earliest attempts at poetical composition being in the same form— in lines consisting of four words, forming, from the nature of the language, four syllables. Wherever there is any marked de- viation from this type, the genuineness of the piece as a relic of antiquity becomes liable to great suspicion. This measure Dr. Legge has, of course, found it impossible to follow in his translations, and he has adopted such English metres as seemed to represent most faithfully the thought and sentiment of the pieces.
As to religious ideas, the early Chinese, as proved by these 'Odes,' had a pretty clear idea of a supreme God ; but they be- lieved in many other spirits under him, some presiding over hills and rivers, and others dwelling in the heavenly bodies. "In fact," says Dr. Legge, "there was no object to which a tributary spirit might not at times be ascribed, and no place where the approaches of Spiritual Beings might not be, and ought not to be, provided for, by the careful keeping of the heart and ordering of the conduct." The worship of ancestors added a very peculiar element to this species of nature-worship ; and, taken possession of by a philosophy which aimed so directly at consecrating outward observances, it has done not a little to squeeze out in modern days the more poetic, and if we may say so, sentimental worship, with which it was then intimately associated. In these early days, however, the Chinese shared with Orientals generally the degrading idea of woman. Polygamy was common, and among high and low the female sex was, at least theoretically, despised. While the young princes were richly dressed and slept on silken couches, the bare earth or the coarsest wrappings sufficed for the princesses ; and the lower classes, nowhere more prone to be influenced by those above them than in China, in this too surely followed their superiors. In face of these facts, it is exceedingly interesting to see how the worship of ancestors which gave its sublimest sanction to filial faithful- ness (which Dr. Legge has well called the "salt of the king- dom"), sufficed to preserve a savour of purity and elevation about the social life. Husbands are neglectful, even cruel, but the wives are patient, and, if we may trust the She, nobly for- bear, and find some comfort in pouring out their hearts in the primitive songs of their country. These two verses, for instance, conclude a song in which Chwang Keang pathetically deplores the conduct of her husband :—
" Strong blew the wind ; the cloud
Soon dark again, the shroud Covers the day.
I wake, and sleep no more Visits my eyes.
His course I sad deplore, With heavy sighs.
Cloudy the sky, and dark ; The thunders roll.
Such outward signs will mark My troubled soul.
I wake, and sleep no more Comes to give rest.
His course I sad deplore, In anguished breast."
This, on the other hand, is a graceful bride-song:- "Graceful and young the peach-tree stands; How rich its flowers, all gleaming bright ! This bride to her new home repairs; Chamber and house she'll order right.
Graceful and young the peach-tree stands Large crops of fruit it soon will show. This bride to her new home repairs ; Chamber and house her sway shall know.
Graceful and young the peach-tree stands, Its foliage clustering green and full. This bride to her new home repairs ;
Her household will attest her rule."
As an instance of wifely longing for her husband, we have the following, rendered into flowing Lowland Scotch
"The gudeman's awa, for to fecht wi' the stranger,
An' when he'll be back, oh I my hert canna tell. The hens gae to reist, an' the beasts to their manger, As homeward they wend frae their park on the bill. But boo can I, thus left alone, Help thinking o' my man that's gene?
The gudeman's awa' for to fecht wi' the stranger, An' lang will it be ere he sees his fireside. The hens gae to mist, and the beests to their manger, As the slantin' sunbeams through the forest trees glide. Heaven kens the lonesome things I think. Heaven son' my man his meat an' drink."
There follows a sequel, expressing the tenderest satisfaction at the warrior's return. And this suggests that in these early
days of China there were wars and rumours of wars, dynasty after dynasty indulging its own ambitious and pet schemes, and sometimes deluging the country with blood. One of the most humorous and characteristic pieces is the following, which might stand for the feelings of some outcast hero of Delhi or Inkerman :- "My way leads forth by the gate on the North ;
My heart is full of woe, I hay n't a cent, begged, stolen, or lent, And friends forget one so.
So let it be ! 'tie Heaven's decree, What can 1 say,—a poor fellow like me ?
The Ring has his throne, sans sorrow or moan ; On me fall all his cares, And when I come home, resolved not to roam, Each one indignant stares.
So let it be ! 'tis Heaven's decree,
What can I say,—a poor fellow like me?
Each thing of the King, and the fate of the State, On me come more and more, And when sad and worn, I come back forlorn, They thrust me from the door. So let it be ! 'tis Heaven's decree, What can I say,—a poor fellow like me ?"
Taxes were heavy, too, in those days, and Governments sometimes Were extortionate ; at all events, the Government of Wei has this somewhat disparaging record :—
"Large rats, large rats, let us entreat,
That you our millet will not eat.
Bat the large rats we mean are you With whom three years we have had to do ; And all that time have never known One look of kindness on us thrown, We take our leave of Wei and you, A happier land we long to view, 0 happy land! 0 happy land I
There in our proper place we'll stand."
Some of the love-songs have a touch of tenderness, but some, again, are deliciously scornful. This is a specimen of the latter, a lady addressing her lover :—
"0 dear! that artful boy
Refuses me a word!
But, Sir, I shall enjoy!
My food, though you're absurd !
0 dear! that artful boy My table will not share ; But, Sir, I shall enjoy My rest, though you're not there."
It would seem that in those days, too, young women, in spite of filial obedience and traditions in favour of marriages of con- venience, would rebel, raising a mild discussion of a question often stirred in our day. But, the She is decided :—
" Oh, think of this, young girl whose wilful heart Is bent on marriage as her only part.
She wrongs herself, to the right course untrue, Which every viruous woman should pursue. She blames her lot, and, wanton, will not own, Heaven's ordering of it on the parents thrown. For marriage-ties the wisest rules are made, And to such rules obedience should be paid."
It must not be overlooked that this was before the custom of crippling Chinese women by cramping their feet had been intro-
duced, so that some freedom of movement was still possible. And if this was sometimes used by them in a manner not reconcilable with the maxims of propriety, so urgently laid down even in the She, it must be said that more often it was favourably taken advantage of. Dr. Legge writes :—" Notwithstanding the low estimation in which woman's intellect and character were held, the mind of the wife often was stronger than her husband's, and her virtue greater. Many wives in Chinese history have entered into the ambition of their husbands, and spurred them on in the path of noble enterprise."
But the She does not limit itself to any side of life,—all in- terests are represented ; maxims of prudence are set to music, thrift, industry, and perseverance are celebrated. A mild plea-
sure is encouraged, but such as must not disturb due forethought. This is one specimen of a considerable class :—
"The cricket appears in the hall, And towards its close draws the year ; Then let us to-day to pleasure give way Ere the days and months disappear. But duty should have our first thought; Indulgence we strictly must bound; Take heed lest the joy our reason destroy. The good man looks out and around."
The filial sentiment has full expression, and in many forms ; indeed, it is here that the element of tenderness finds freest expression. Thaw two stanzas, for example, close the lament of seven sons, who mourn their inability to comfort their mother " See that cool and crystal spring, How its waters comfort bring,
Welling forth the city near, All who dwell in Tseum to cheer! Pained our mother is, and tried, As if help we seven denied.
In their yellow plumage bright Lovely gleam those birds to sight, And their notes fall on the ear Rich, and oh ! so sweet to hear. Seven sons we, without the art To compose our mother's heart!"
Many of the songs deal with such matters as dress, treatment of friends, and the profit of adhering to this established custom or that. The following shows a vein of fine sentiment :—
"0 fell not that sweet pear-tree !
See how its branches spread ; Spoil not its shade, For Shaou's chief laid Beneath it his weary head.
0 clip not that sweet pear-tree I Each twig and leaflet spare ; 'Tis sacred now, Since the Lord of Shaon When weary rested him there.
0 touch not that sweet pear-tree ! Bend not a twig of it now ; There long ago,
As the stories show,
Oft halted the chief of Simon."
Very significant are the glimpses afforded in the songs of sacrifice; it is here that the religious spirit directly appears. This is one
My offerings here are given, A ram, a bull.
Accept them, mighty Heaven, All-bountiful.
Thy statutes, 0 great king, I keep, I love;
So on the realm to bring Peace from above.
From Wan comes blessing rich ; Now on the right He owns those gifts to which Him I invite.
Do I not night and day Revere great Heaven, That thus its favour may To Chow be given ?"
Most readers, we think, will be inclined to admit that Professor Legge was quite justified in forming a more favourable opinion of the Odes, the more minutely that he studied them in the process of metrical translation, and will also thank those friends who suggested the scheme, and did so much to encourage him in it by their aid and advice. This, at all events, is our deliberate con- viction, which we have now great pleasure in recording.