Circular Poetry, a special form of literature in ancient China, makes sense when read both forwards and backwards. It dates back to the Western Jin Dynasty (AD 265–316). Since then it has been a particular favourite with so many poets, resulting in many creative masterpieces. Among the ones who excelled at this genre are Su Shi (1037–1101), litterateur of the Northern Song Dynasty (AD 960–1127), and his sister Lady Su, the wife of famous poet Qin Guan (1049–1100).
To express his love for his far-away wife, as the legend goes, Qin Guan wrote a “palindrome” poem and had it delivered to her. It goes as follows:
jìng Sī Yī JIǓ Zǔ guī Qī,
I've pined to see my love for so long, JIǓ Zǔ GUĪ Qī Yì BIÉ Lí；
For so long I've held dear the days gone. Yì BIÉ Lí SHÍ WÉN LÒU ZHUǍN,
I've held dear the days gone, the sands running. SHÍ WÉN LÒU ZHUǍN JÌNG Sī Yī.
The sands running, I've pined to see my love. Upon reading his poem Lady Su also composed a piece: CǍI LIÁN RÉN ZÀI Lǜ YÁNG JĪN.
The lotus-seed picker is on the Willow River.
ZÀI Lǜ yáng JĪN Yī QUÈ XĪN.
On the Willow River she's singing a lonely song. Yī QUÈ XĪN Gē SHĒNG SHÙ Yù.
一 阕 新 歌 声 漱 玉.
She's singing a lonely song in a ringing voice. gē shēng shù yù CǍILIÁN RÉN.
歌 声 漱 玉 采 莲 人.
In a ringing voice is singing the lotusseed picker.
The word game between husband and wife aroused the interest of Su Shi, who also used the same structure to write a poem still popular today entitled “Appreciation of Flowers.” Let's take a look at the following picture. Can you make out the poem by guessing Su Shi's intention?
SHǍNG HUĀ GUĪ Qù Mǎ Rú FĒI JIǓ Lì WĒI
XǏNG shí Yǐ Mù.賞花歸去馬如飛酒力微醒已暮.
Of all writings in the world, only Chinese characters can be used to “play” such amusing games. In China today for example, a string of 20 characters arranged by ancient people in a particular order is still wellknown. It goes as follows:
LUÒ XUĚ FĒI FĀNG SHÙ YŌU HÓNG Yǔ DÀN XIÁ
BÁO YUÈ Mí XIĀNG Wù LIÚ fēng Wǔ YÀN HUĀ.落雪飞芳树幽红雨淡霞薄月迷香雾流风舞艳花.
No matter from where you cut off the string, you can get an ancient-style poem with a rhyme. What a miracle! Let's take a look at the following picture. How many good poems can you derive from these characters?