Fun With Song Dynasty Lyrics: Preface

Ren Yiren

PureInsight | February 6, 2006

[] China is a nation of poetry. Following Tang Dynasty Poetry (唐詩), Song Dynasty Lyrics (宋詞) are also brilliant and lustrous pearls in the history of Chinese literature.

In the late Tang Dynasty, the classic form of poetry had reached its zenith. In fact, the Tang Dynasty is known for its poetry, which had reached the point of perfection. As a poet put it most succinctly, "This era abounds with talent. Each poet claims the glory of several hundred years."

However, with the introduction of each new dynasty came a new culture. It is as though different troupes of actors were presenting their best numbers in their corresponding dynasties. The change in the form of literature is one of the most distinctive changes that appeared in the Chinese culture along with the changes in the dynasties. Towards the end of the magnificent Tang Dynasty, some poets turned their attention to a new form of poetry --- creating lyrics. It is equivalent to today's lyrics for songs. In the beginning, Song Dynasty Lyrics were referred to as "Lyrics for Song" (曲子詞).

There are two categories of "Lyrics for Song": folk lyrics and poetic lyrics. Folk lyrics were mostly the works of anonymous commoners while poetic lyrics were the result of refinement and improvement by learned poets. Folk lyrics had a large variety of different styles and forms because the forms for the lyrics had not been molded yet. Folk lyrics used simple and plain language and included a variety of different subjects, such as the lonely solitude of travelers, loyalty of subjects to their rulers, heroic generals, the delights of tranquil hermits, youthful passion and frustration, Buddhist cultivators' praises of Buddha, and traditional medical doctors' self-improvised medical notes in the form of lyrics for the sake of jogging the memory, etc. As for poetic lyrics, they were not written in common or simple language because they were composed by learned men. Their language was elegant and they rhymed better.

Tang Dynasty Poetry and Song Dynasty Lyrics have different forms. Hence, it is impossible to compare them or to declare which form is better. In fact, they seem to complement each other as the two most celebrated forms of ancient Chinese literature. Many renowned poets of the Song Dynasty made reference to Tang Dynasty poems in their creations of Song Dynasty Lyrics. In addition, almost everyone who enjoys reading Song Dynasty Lyrics also enjoys reading Tang Dynasty Poetry.

Poetry is a divine language. Song Dynasty Lyrics are also a form of poetry. Poetry does not differentiate between its readers. Everyone, no matter what his background is, is capable of enjoying poetry in his own way. We will present selected Song Dynasty Lyrics in the same way we presented selected Tang Dynasty Poems. We will explain the surface meanings of the poems and then interpret them in the way that we feel best illustrate the poets' personalities, artistic styles, and natures so as to have our readers bask in the poets' beautiful human natures and to give our readers an opportunity to further enhance their moral values.

For thousands of years, just like the Tang Dynasty Poetry, Song Dynasty Lyrics have touched the hearts of Chinese and western people because the many masterpieces have the ability to play on the "string of emotion" of their readers. Sung or recited, Song Dynasty Lyrics have the power to touch people's souls when they read them with kind, sincere hearts. The reason may be that, inside each and every person's heart, there lies a hidden yearning for Truth and Compassion, as well as sympathy, support and admiration for those people who have endured torture and pain and even been killed in order to safeguard Truth and Compassion. Everything that is true, genuine and kind can touch people's souls; this is the source of beauty and carries the power of beauty.

A life nourished by beautiful poetry must be beautiful as well. A mind nurtured by sincerity and kindness will never wither. Tang Dynasty Poetry and Song Dynasty Lyrics are the two most lustrous pearls in the history of Chinese literature. You will surely enjoy a positive and beautiful life if you enjoy reading Tang Dynasty Poetry as well as Song Dynasty Lyrics.

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