Joint Classical Chinese Poetry Composition – Hopes for the New Year

I threw out the idea of having a joint Classical Chinese poetry composition (詩會, 시회) on a post few weeks ago. Fortunately, three people responded, meaning that with myself included that would be four, and one of the most common Classical Chinese poetic form are quartets. All of us were Asian diaspora: a Cantonese speaking Chinese-American, Mandarin speaking Chinese-Canadian, Vietnamese-American, and Korean-American. As for our educational background, three of us including myself are from a technical background and the remaining one from the humanities and music. We chose to write a quartet (絶句, 절구) as the poetic form (詩體, 시체) with 陽(양) as the riming character (韻, 운). The theme (主題, 주제) picked was hopes for the new year, since the Lunar New Year was approaching and is today. We each took turns composing each line and then afterward commented and (heavily) revised upon it. This was a truly delightful experience.

新年所望

Hopes for the New Year

羈中朔月少知光 (歸源)
寒盡紅梅掩故鄉 (羅氏)
萬里南圖心未已 (峭庵)
卸繮騏驥馭神羊 (孟昭)

In foreign lands, few know the significance of the new moon’s light. (Kuiwon)
As winter departs, red plum blossoms obscure the homeland. (Jeff Loh)
A ten thousand mile journey planned southward, my heart ceases not thinking. (Tiễu Am)
Let go of the reins of the thoroughbred horse and straddle the divine ram. (Mengzhao)

Definitions:

Strange land • middle • first day • moon • few • to know • light
Cold • to exhaust • red • plums • to cover • old • village
Ten thousand • li • south • to plan • mind • not yet • to cease
To untie • reins • horse • horse • to drive • divine • ram

Notes:

  • Heptasyllabic truncated verse (七言絶句). Riming character (韻) is 陽.
  • 南圖 – Literally means “to plan southward.” Refers to great aspirations.
  • 騏驥 – Refers to a horse that can gallop very quickly.
  • 神羊 – Literally “divine ram.” Can refer to Xiezhi (獬豸) or Haetae (海陀), a legendary lion-like beast in Chinese and Korean mythology. Statues of the beast can be found at the gates of many old homes and palaces.
  • Last year was the year of the horse (甲午). This year it is the year of the ram (乙未). Last line alludes to transitions from the year of the horse to the year of the ram.

Pronunciations:

Korean 
신년소망 shin nyeon so mang
기중삭월소지광 gi jung sak weol so ji gwang
한진홍매엄고향 han jin hong mae eom go hyang
만리남도심미기 man ri nam do shim mi gi
사강기기어신양 sa gang gi gi eo shin yang

Cantonese
san1 nin4 so2 mong6
gei1 zung1 sok3 jyut6 siu2 zi1 gwong1
hon4 zeon6 gung1 mui4 am2 gu3 hoeng1
maan6 lei5 naam4 tou4 sam1 mei6 ji5
se3 goeng1 kei4 kei3 jyu6 san1 joeng4

Sino-Vietnamese
Tân niên sở vọng
Ky trung sóc nguyệt thiểu tri quang
Hàn tận hồng mai yểm cố hương
Vạn lý nam đồ tâm vị dĩ
Tá cương kỳ ký ngự thần dương

Mandarin
xīn nián suǒ wàng
jī zhōng shuò yuè shǎo zhī guāng
hán jìn hōng méi yǎn gù xiāng
wàn lǐ nán tú xīn wèi yǐ
xiè jiāng qí jì yù shén yáng

21 comments
  1. Alice Cheang said:

    A beautiful poem. I especially like the third line. Hopefully, this will be the first of many happy collaborations.

    • 歸源 said:

      Thank you. You’re also welcome to join our collaborations.

    • 是拙作而已 , 拜請足下指教。

  2. riroriro said:

    寒盡 = cold ends ?
    紅梅 = red plum ? not orchids 蘭
    寒盡 紅梅 掩故鄉 = cold ends , the ( burgeoning ) plums hide from view the village ?

    • 歸源 said:

      Another valid interpretation. I’ve changed it to plums. I always get those two confused.

      • Alice Cheang said:

        I agree with 豐 臣’s interpretation. 盡 in this context is better read as an intransitive verb. To get the sense that Kuiwon suggests, another verb (摧 to wither, 落 to cause to fall) would, I think, have been a more likely choice. Also, if the cold has indeed killed off the plum blossoms, how would they be able to obstruct the poet’s homeward view/nostalgic thoughts? If this is a New Year poem, it would perhaps be more appropriate to have an image of winter ending and plum blossoms (the first harbinger of spring) coming out– to signal the beginning of a new cycle of life.

  3. riroriro said:

    _ 羈中 is a little bit obscure , instead of 羈中 strange land , shouldn’t it be 他 鄉 which was usual
    _ in 3rd verse , which 心 is meant ; in old times , 心= mind ( intellectual ) , in modern , western meaning , it’s heart ( feelings )

    • 歸源 said:

      Thank you for your suggestions. As stated in the post, we heavily revised each line and what you stated was considered. In addition, the suggestion is a bit problematic here, because the character 鄉 is already in the poem (避同字). Further, this is more of a stylistic concern, but I generally do not like to have characters that rime outside the last character in a riming line (冒韻). (I know this occurs on the 4th line.)

      You seem to know Classical Chinese to some degree. You are welcome to join our joint compositions if you would like.

      • riroriro said:

        _ instead of 他 鄉 , maybe 他 國 or 客地
        _ 少 is more about size , for small number of people , maybe 寡 is more appropriate
        _ I just have piecemal knowledge of Han Characters and am a passive reader of Han poetry . I can just give suggestions about this or that word or expression
        I have absolutely no capacity of writing ancient or modern poetry

      • 歸源 said:

        There is a lot more than goes into 漢詩, especially 近體詩, than what appears on the surface. As such, I would be hesitant on making such suggestions. We thought through a lot of this.

        他國 and 客地 are even more problematic than 他鄉. 國 and 地 are 仄聲. The second character in the first line requires 平聲. Your suggestion violates the fundamental rule of 二六對, 二四不同.

        There are instance of 少 where it is used as a noun.

        Please do feel free to comment on translations.

  4. riroriro said:

    I do know about 平聲 and 仄聲 . Each country pronounces differently the same character . A. korean 仄聲 word would be pronounced 平 in chinese or another tongue , isn’t it ?. Tang poetry is maybe the best , the most harmonious . Writing poetry should be done according to Tang pronunciation of Han characters , such pronunciation can be found in Karkgren’s Analytic Dictionary of Chinese and Sino-Japanese under the column Ancient Chinese.

    • 歸源 said:

      We based the tones off the Kangxi Dictionary (康熙大典), which captures Tang pronunciation of Chinese and is the standard for Classical Chinese poetry since is promulgation. (Poems written before then were based on 洪武正韻 and other rime dictionaries.) This was literally one of the first topics we discussed when we composed this poem, and why we — despite speaking different tongues — (and not to mention every Classical Chinese poet since the Tang dynasty) could compose Classical Chinese poetry that comports with its numerous rules on tone and rime, many of which date back to even before the Tang dynasty. Also, Korean pronunciations of Chinese characters conserves 入聲 for example for the most part (I’ve read it’s 99%).

      • riroriro said:

        Thank you for the information about Korean pronunciations .
        I commend you and others for your fantastic endeavour , tackling the famous ancient poets . I would recoil facing the difficulties as did 李 太 白 when he came near the Yellow crane tower 黃鶴樓 : “崔顥 has spoken , I have nothing to add “

      • Alice Cheang said:

        Kuiwon is right. Sino-Korean is as faithful as Cantonese in preserving 入聲 endings, making it a great language for composing classical poems. (It also preserves the Tang pronunciation of other phonemes– in many cases even more faithfully than Cantonese– although unfortunately not the tones.)

      • 歸源 said:

        I will add that all the -t endings for 入聲 have been uniformly changed to -l in Korean. Little known fact is that King Sejong realized that there had been this shift and actually tried to correct it with his promulgation of 東國正韻 . However, very few Koreans followed his rime dictionary.

  5. setohj said:

    Could you please explain how 羈中 is “strange land?” I’m lost here. Thanks. Otherwise, I’m enjoying your post.

    • 歸源 said:

      羈 itself means foreign lands or strange lands (客地).

  6. riroriro said:

    羈 = a kind of muzzle ( or reins ? ) for horses
    羇 = stranger , host , guest ( person , not land )
    Both characters have the same key 网

  7. setohj said:

    Thanks to Kuiwon and others above who have helped me immensely in responding to my question regarding the term 羈中. I would like to know if the example in the first link from the DB of Korean Classics is a line from the Tang poet 白居易.

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