Literature during the Han Dynasty (206 B.C. - A.D 221)

by D.J. James from Story Traditions with James at 12:36 PM on 4·2·2011

This week’s episode introduced Chinese literature during the Han Dynasty (206 B.C. – A.D 221) with a brief discussion on the role played by Emperor Wu. Wu’s contribution to the development of Chinese literature can’t be exaggerated. His devotion to both Confucianism and Daoism allowed for not only cross fertilization of the two, but a creation of a new verse form, one that permits the retelling of the peasants lives by the peasants. Emperor Wu embraced the peasants telling their stories in poetic form accompanied by music, or as it is known today – folksongs. A more complex development of poetry is seen in the 5-word poem, which captures the compactness of the Chinese language. Because the Chinese language is devoid of articles, prepositions and pronouns, it becomes difficult to present this in English in an understandable fashion. Here is an attempt. The italicized words are the 5 words per line that would be found in the original Chinese version:

Green, green, the grass by the river bank;
Thick, thick, the willows in the garden.
Fair, fair the lady in the upper chamber;
Graceful, graceful, she faces the window lattice.
Lovely, lovely, her toilet of rouge and powder;
Slender, slender, she shows her white hands.
Once she was a girl of the singsong house;
Now she is a wandering man’s wife.
The wandering man has left and not returned;
It is hard alone to keep an empty bed.

Next week I will continue to discuss the 5-word poem. Keep it locked!

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