Shi Poems: Keepsake of the Tang Dynasty

The Tang Dynasty is known as a ‘golden age’ of many things in Chinese history: architecture, art, music and intellectual searching. For many, the pinnacle of this artistic atmosphere was the poetry (shi) of the era, which both defined and relayed the Tang Dynasty’s ambiance.

Tang poetry and poets were famous during their time and are still beloved today. Most Chinese households still own a copy of Three Hundred Tang Poems, a collection of Tang poems compiled by Sun Zhu during the Qing Dynasty. These three hundred poems have been used to educate youth, and most people that have gone through the Chinese education system were asked to memorize a Tang poem at least once in their lives.

Tang Dynasty poets were the rock stars of their time. Their poems often depicted moral ideas and represented the social climate of the time, as well as were used for social upheaval and change. All of the Tang emperors loved poetry and usually wrote poems themselves, and the famous poets of the time, like Du Fu and Li Bai, were often called to court to read poetry for special occasions.

Tang poems can be classified into several style divisions: old style poems (gushi), regular poems (lüshi) and short poems (jueju). Each of these three was comprised of five or seven syllable (character) verses, totally in six distinct poetic varieties.

The subjects of the poems were diverse and could be anything, but were often seemingly mundane everyday events with detailed descriptions of natural surroundings. The poems were always instructive in nature and usually included rhyming second lines, making them easier to memorize and more pleasant when recited.

Tang Dynasty poetry is a treasure. It gives us infinite clues into the history and rich cultural traditions of China, which have been left undisturbed for hundreds of years. Furthermore, poetry of the Tang Dynasty has dominated the Chinese poetic tradition until the modern era, vastly influencing Chinese writers along the way.


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