Beijing (English)

Circular Poetry

- Translated by Sun Hongshan Edited by Alistair Baker-brian

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,

静思伊久阻归期,

I've pined to see my love for so long, JIǓ Zǔ GUĪ Qī Yì BIÉ Lí;

久阻归期忆别离;

For so long I've held dear the days gone. Yì BIÉ Lí SHÍ WÉN LÒU ZHUǍN,

忆别离时闻漏转,

I've held dear the days gone, the sands running. SHÍ WÉN LÒU ZHUǍN JÌNG Sī Yī.

时闻漏转静思伊.

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.

采莲人在绿杨津.

The lotus-seed picker is on the Willow River.

ZÀI Lǜ yáng JĪN Yī QUÈ XĪN.

在绿杨津一阕新.

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?

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