A Hundred and Seventy Chinese Poems
A Hundred and Seventy Chinese Poems. Translated by Arthur Waley. Those who wish to assure themselves that they will lose nothing by ignoring Chinese ... Show synopsis A Hundred and Seventy Chinese Poems. Translated by Arthur Waley. Those who wish to assure themselves that they will lose nothing by ignoring Chinese literature, often ask the question: "Have the Chinese a Homer, an Aeschylus, a Shakespeare or Tolstoy?" The answer must be that China has no epic and no dramatic literature of importance. The novel exists and has merits, but never became the instrument of great writers. Her philosophic literature knows no mean between the traditionalism of Confucius and the nihilism of Chuang-tzu. In mind, as in body, the Chinese were for the most part torpid mainlanders. Their thoughts set out on no strange quests and adventures, just as their ships discovered no new continents. To most Europeans the momentary flash of Athenian questioning will seem worth more than all the centuries of Chinese assent. Yet we must recognize that for thousands of years the Chinese maintained a level of rationality and tolerance that the West might well envy. They had no Index, no Inquisition, no Holy Wars. Superstition has indeed played its part among them; but it has never, as in Europe, been perpetually dominant. It follows from the limitations of Chinese thought that the literature of the country should excel in reflection rather than in speculation. That this is particularly true of its poetry will be gauged from the present volume. In the poems of Po Chu-i no close reasoning or philosophic subtlety will be discovered; but a power of candid reflection and self-analysis which has not been rivalled in the West. Turning from thought to emotion, the most conspicuous feature of European poetry is its pre-occupation with love. This is apparent not only in actual "love-poems," but in all poetry where the personality of the writer is in any way obtruded. The poet tends to exhibit himself in a romantic light; in fact, to recommend himself as a lover. The Chinese poet has a tendency different but analogous. He recommends himself not as a lover, but as a friend. He poses as a person of infinite leisure (which is what we should most like our friends to possess) and free from worldly ambitions (which constitute the greatest bars to friendship). He would have us think of him as a boon companion, a great drinker of wine, who will not disgrace a social gathering by quitting it sober. To the European poet the relation between man and woman is a thing of supreme importance and mystery. To the Chinese, it is something commonplace, obvious-a need of the body, not a satisfaction of the emotions. These he reserves entirely for friendship.