The Books of Songs, also known as Three Hundred Poems, is the oldest ancient Chinese poem collection with approximately 305 pieces of poems. It has a wide time span, from the early period of the Western Zhou Dynasty (11th century-771 BC) to Spring and Autumn period(771 until 476 BC). It is a great book to study the society, life and people’s mind from that age.
The Book of Songs wasn’t written by one person. As the story goes, there were more than 3000 thousand poems coming down from Spring and Autumn Period but only 311 survived till today. Besides some court songs from Zhou dynasty, there is a ton of folk songs from the civil world.
However, different sayings remained of how these folk songs were collected to the imperial court. Some scholars think the emperor had special songs collectors so they could get all the best songs for the court. More importantly, the emperor would know what his people had in mind and what was bothering them thus he could make right policy and people could benefit from it. Others think those songs were inherited by musicians from different dynasties. Which one is true, no one knows. I guess both sayings make sense in a way.
Generally speaking, this book speaks for the life within 500 years. You can find also everything in it, poems about praising ancestors, worships of god and ghosts, social networking among noble families, hatred from slaves, as well as hunting and others talking about love, marriage and social customs.Behind each poem, there lies a history story.
When it comes to the contents structure, it can be divided into three parts-Feng(tone), Ya, Song. Feng refers to the160 pieces local folk songs from 15 different areas, mostly talking about the daily lives of the folks. Ya refers to the classic and elegant songs, mostly for imperial court, 105 pieces in total.
There are two kinds Ya, Big Ya for imperial banquet, Small Ya for personal feelings expression. Some songs were even from royals and nobles. Song refers to narrative songs and epic poems, 40 pieces in total, mostly for religious use, eulogizing the great achievements of ancestors. It is slower than the former two kind songs.
Here are some excerpts from one of my favorite love poem from The Book of Songs called Jianjia. A bold heart full of love is always precious but sometime the hope is faint. To make it come true, you might have to sacrifice a lot only to find you are sacrificing for nothing. But for some people, it is the journey matters, not the results.
Green reed besides the river, the dew forming into frost for it’s late autumn already.
Where is the one for me? She is right across the river.
Going upstream to look for her,the journey is so rough and long.
Going downstream to look for her, it seems she’s right in the middle of the river.
The Book of Songs- First Chinese Poem Collection
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