Jun 30, 2011

Lu Shi (Code Verse)

Much of the information I used for this form came from a single source: Poetry Magnum Opus. If you'd like a better look at these, or any other forms, please check this site out. Judi Van Gorder has the most comprehensive poetry site available and even includes indexes to make searching for a form all that much easier.

Lu Shi, or code verse, is a genre of Chinese forms that carries two or more parallels of content and phonetic tone. Shi (meaning verse or lines of equal length) seems to dominate traditional Chinese poetic form whether the poem is written in an established form that restricts syllables or not. Most traditional Chinese poetry is made up of 4 lines with parallel content and phonetics. The lines are composed, Qi - beginning, Cheng - development, Zhuan - returning, and Jie – finishing.

The phonetic tones or pitch of Chinese poetry are long tones, maintenance of a single pitch, or deflected tones which are relatively short with the pitch moving up or down. The deflected tone is said to be either, rising, falling or entering. The tonal feature of Chinese poetry is impossible to achieve in English.

The basic rhythmic unit of a Chinese poem is the single character (zi), which is pronounced as one syllable. The language consists primarily of zi, mono syllabic words, limiting the English imitator to only a portion of the English vocabulary. Most English descriptions of Chinese poetic patterns use the words "syllable count", but the word "character count" would be more accurate. The original poems in form were written in Chinese characters which include more components than just syllable count. The word character loosens the spectrum of syllable count to possible word count, making English use of the forms more compatible.

The code verse values match and balance and tend to be responsive not imaginative. There are hundreds of code verses but I’m only going to concentrate on the four forms common to the Tang dynasty 618-907 AD.

Ch'I Yen Shih
Ssu Yen Shih
Wu Yen Shih
Chueh Chu

The Ch'I Yen Shih is the oldest of the Lu Shi. It is usually written in only one quatrain, and never more than three quatrains in length. It has 7 characters per line which in Chinese are mono-syllable words but could be words of more than one syllable in English. Usually there is a caesura after the 4th word in a line. It is always written with parallels and balance and it has a rhyme: x-a-x-a (where x has no rhyme).

The pen nib drips, words that stay
In curves and loops, wet black ink
By light of flame, a scribe writes
Words are meant to, make us think

The Ssu Yen Shih verse could seem a bit terse in English because of its short lines. It is usually only one quatrain of four characters and never more than three quatrains. It is composed of mono syllable words with a caesura after the second word. The rhyme scheme is: x-a-x-a (where x has no rhyme)

Four lines, four words
Lu shi, code verse
Four forms, four poems
This form, much worse

The Wu Yen Shih is an expansion of the Ssu Yen Shi. Again it is usually written with only one quatrain, never more than three quatrains. The lines are five characters long, composed of mono-syllable words with a caesura after the second word. The rhyme scheme is a-b-a-b.

Time flies, lines are drawn
Tides run, can’t hold back
Sun sets, light has gone
Dawn comes, chase the black

The Chueh Chu (chu meaning song) or Regulated Verse is the Chinese "sonnet short cut". It is a verse form that uses both the Chi Yen Shih and Wu Yen Shi meters.

It is an eight line meditation made up of two quatrains of either the Chi Yen Shih or Wu Yen Shih meters, or a combination. Variable rhyme schemes may be used, Rhyme schemes may be: a-a-x-a and x-a-x-a or x-b-x-b and x-b-x-b or a-a-x-a and a-a-x-a (x being unrhymed).

There is a muse, who leads me
Through fields of words, a vast sea,
The choice is mine, I listen hard
Which of these words, sings to me

A poem can not, it is true
Be plucked from air, like a song
It needs must be, with great care,
Built word by word, to be strong.

Of the four forms, I think I enjoyed the Chueh Chu the most, mainly for the variety of choice when it came to the rhyme scheme. As you can probably guess, my least favorite was the Ssu Yen Shih. The syllable counts and rhyme schemes weren’t as bad as having to use one syllable words. I invite everyone to give them a try, and let me know what your favourite is.


Tara Tyler said...

that was a crash course in chinese poetry! thanks for educating me! i will try them this weekend =)

C R Ward said...

LOL They were so short it seemed like cheating to do them one at a time. :-)