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 1, 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 2 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 Wăn, 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 Făng, the Hsiâo Yâ, the Tâ Yâ, and the Sung.
The Kwo Făng, 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. They were produced in the royal territory, and are descriptive of the manners and ways of the government in successive reigns. It is difficult to find an English word that shall fitly represent the Chinese Yâ as here used. In his Latin translation of the Shih, p. Lacharme translated Hsiâo Yâ by 'Quod rectum est, sed inferiore ordine,' adding in a note:--'Siâo Yâ, latine Parvum Rectum, quia in hac Parte mores describuntur, recti illi quidem, qui tamen nonnihil a recto deflectunt.' But the manners described are not less correct or incorrect, as the case may be, than those of the states in the former Part or of the kingdom in the next. I prefer to call this Part 'Minor Odes of the Kingdom,' without attempting to translate the term Yâ.
The Tâ Yâ or Greater Yâ, in three Books, contains thirty-one pieces, sung on great occasions at the royal court and in the presence of the king. p. Lacharme called it 'Magnum Rectum (Quod rectum est superiore ordine).' But there is the same objection here to the use of the word 'correct' as in the case of the pieces of the previous Part. I use the name 'Major Odes of the Kingdom.' The greater length and dignity of most of the pieces justify the distinction of the two Parts into Minor and Major.
The Sung, also in three Books, contains forty pieces, thirty-one of which belong to the sacrificial services at the royal court of Kâu; four, to those of the marquises of Lû; and five to the corresponding sacrifices of the kings of Shang. p. Lacharme denominated them correctly 'Parentales Cantus.' In the Preface to the Shih, to which I have made reference above, it is said, 'The Sung are pieces in admiration of the embodied manifestation of complete virtue, announcing to the spiritual Intelligences their achievement thereof.' Kû Hsî's account of the Sung was--'Songs for the Music of the Ancestral Temple;' and that of Kiang Yung of the present dynasty--'Songs for the Music at Sacrifices.' I have united these two definitions, and call the Part--'Odes of the Temple and the Altar.' There is
a difference between the pieces of Lû and the other two collections in this Part, to which I will call attention in giving the translation of them.
Only the pieces of the fourth Part have professedly a religious character.
From the above account of the contents of the Shih, it will be seen that only the pieces in the last of its four Parts are professedly of a religious character. Many of those, however, in the other Parts, especially the second and third, describe religious services, and give expression to religious ideas in the minds of their authors.
Classification of the pieces from their form and style.
3. Some of the pieces in the Shih are ballads, some are songs, some are hymns, and of others the nature can hardly be indicated by any English denomination They have often been spoken of by the general name of odes, understanding by that term lyric poems that were set to music.
My reason for touching here on this point is the earliest account of the Shih, as a collection either already formed or in the process of formation, that we find in Chinese literature. In the Official Book of Kâu, generally supposed to be a work of the twelfth or eleventh century B.C., among the duties of the Grand Music-Master there is 'the teaching,' (that is, to the musical performers,) 'the, six classes of poems:--the Făng; the Fû; the Pî; the Hsing; the Yâ; and the Sung.' That the collection of the Shih, as it now is, existed so early as the date assigned to the Official Book could not be; but we find the same account of it given in the so-called Confucian Preface. The Făng, the Yâ, and the Sung are the four Parts of the classic described in the preceding paragraph, the Yâ embracing both the Minor and Major Odes of the Kingdom. But what were the Fû, the Pî, and the Hsing? We might suppose that they were the names of three other distinct Parts or Books. But they were not so. Pieces so discriminated are found in all the four Parts, though there are more of them in the first two than in the others.
The Fû may be described as Narrative pieces, in which the writers tell what they have to say in a simple, straightforward manner, without any hidden meaning reserved in
the mind. The metaphor and other figures of speech enter into their composition as freely as in descriptive poems in any other language.
The Pî are Metaphorical pieces, in which the poet has under his language a different meaning from what it expresses,--a meaning which there should be nothing in that language to indicate. Such a piece may be compared to the Æsopic fable; but, while it is the object of the fable to inculcate the virtues of morality and prudence, an historical interpretation has to be sought for the metaphorical pieces of the Shih. Generally, moreover, the moral of the fable is subjoined to it, which is never done. in the case of these pieces.
The Hsing have been called Allusive pieces. They are very remarkable, and more numerous than the metaphorical. They often commence with a couple of lines which are repeated without change, or with slight rhythmical changes, in all the stanzas. In other pieces different stanzas have allusive lines peculiar to themselves. Those lines are descriptive, for the most part, of some object or circumstance in the animal or vegetable world, and after them the poet proceeds to his proper subject. Generally, the allusive lines convey a meaning harmonizing with those which follow, where an English poet would begin the verses with Like or As. They are really metaphorical, but the difference between an allusive and a metaphorical piece is this,--that in the former the writer proceeds to state the theme which his mind is occupied with, while no such intimation is given in the latter. Occasionally, it is difficult, not to say impossible, to discover the metaphorical idea in the allusive lines, and then we can only deal with them as a sort of refrain.
In leaving this subject, it is only necessary to say further that the allusive, the metaphorical, and the narrative elements sometimes all occur in the same piece.