Page:A history of Chinese literature - Giles.djvu/156

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144
CHINESE LITERATURE

Late; and they profess to detect in the works assigned to each the corresponding characteristics of growth, fulness, and decay. Others insert a Middle period between the last two, making four periods in all. For general purposes, however, it is only necessary to state, that since the age of the Hans the meanings of words had gradually come to be more definitely fixed, and the structural arrangement more uniform and more polished. Imagination began to come more freely into play, and the language to flow more easily and more musically, as though responsive to the demands of art. A Chinese poem is at best a hard nut to crack, expressed as it usually is in lines of five or seven monosyllabic root-ideas, without inflection, agglutination, or grammatical indication of any kind, the connection between which has to be inferred by the reader from the logic, from the context, and least perhaps of all from the syntactical arrangement of the words. Then, again, the poet is hampered not only by rhyme but also by tone. For purposes of poetry the characters in the Chinese language are all ranged under two tones, as flats and sharps, and these occupy fixed positions just as dactyls, spondees, trochees, and anapæsts in the construction of Latin verse. As a consequence, the natural order of words is often entirely sacrificed to the exigencies of tone, thus making it more difficult than ever for the reader to grasp the sense. In a stanza of the ordinary five-character length the following tonal arrangement would appear:—

Sharp sharp flat flat sharp
Flat flat sharp sharp flat
Flat flat flat sharp sharp
Sharp sharp sharp flat flat.