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The Shih King, or, Book of Poetry   By: (1815-1897)

Book cover

First Page:

THE SHIH KING

OR

BOOK OF POETRY:

ALL THE PIECES AND STANZAS IN IT ILLUSTRATING THE RELIGIOUS VIEWS AND PRACTICES OF THE WRITERS AND THEIR TIMES.

Translated by

James Legge

From the Sacred Books of the East, Vol. 3

First Published 1879

Scanned at www.sacred texts.com August September 2000

THE SHIH KING

OR

BOOK OF POETRY.

INTRODUCTION.

CHAPTER I.

THE NAME AND CONTENTS OF THE CLASSIC.

1. Among the Chinese classical books next after the Shû in point of antiquity comes the Shih or Book of Poetry.

The meaning of the character Shih.

The character Shû, as formed by the combination of two others, one of which signified 'a pencil,' and the other 'to speak,' supplied, we saw in its structure, an indication of its primary significance, and furnished a clue to its different applications. The character Shih was made on a different principle, that of phonetical formation, in the peculiar sense of these words when applied to a large class of Chinese terms. The significative portion of it is the character for 'speech,' but the other half is merely phonetical, enabling us to approximate to its pronunciation or name. The meaning of the compound has to be learned from its usage. Its most common significations are 'poetry,' a poem, or poems,' and a collection of poems! This last is its meaning when we speak of the Shih or the Shih King.

The earliest Chinese utterance that we have on the subject of poetry is that in the Shû by the ancient Shun, when he said to his Minister of Music, 'Poetry is the Expression of earnest thought, and singing, is the prolonged utterance of that expression.' To the same effect is the language of a Preface to the Shih, sometimes ascribed to Confucius and certainly older than our Christian era: 'Poetry is the product of earnest thought. Thought cherished in the mind becomes earnest; then expressed in words, it becomes poetry. The feelings move inwardly, and are embodied in words. When words are insufficient for them, recourse is had to sighs and exclamations. When sighs and exclamations are insufficient for them, recourse is had to the prolonged utterance of song. When this again is insufficient, unconsciously the hands begin to move and the feet to dance..... To set forth correctly the successes and failures (of government), to affect Heaven and Earth, and to move spiritual beings, there is no readier instrument than poetry.'

Rhyme, it may be added here, is a necessary accompaniment of poetry in the estimation of the Chinese. Only in a very few pieces of the Shih is it neglected.

The contents of the Shih.

2. The Shih King contains 305 Pieces and the titles of six others. The most recent of them are assigned to the reign of king Ting of the Kâu dynasty, B.C. 606 to 586, and the oldest, forming a group of only five, to the period of the Shang dynasty which preceded that of Kâu, B.C. 1766 to 1123. Of those five, the latest piece should be referred to the twelfth century B.C., and the most ancient may have been composed five centuries earlier. All the other pieces in the Shih have to be distributed over the time between Ting and king Wan, the founder of the line of Kâu. The distribution, however, is not equal nor continuous. There were some reigns of which we do not have a single Poetical fragment.

The whole collection is divided into four parts, called the Kwo Fang, the Hsiâo Yâ, the Tâ Yâ, and the Sung.

The Kwo Fang, in fifteen Books, contains 160 pieces, nearly all of them short, and descriptive of manners and events in several of the feudal states of Kâu. The title has been translated by The Manners of the Different States, 'Les Mœurs des Royaumes,' and, which I prefer, by Lessons from the States.

The Hsiâo Yâ, or Lesser Yâ, in eight Books, contains seventy four pieces and the titles of six others, sung at gatherings of the feudal princes, and their appearances at the royal court... Continue reading book >>




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