Page:A history of Chinese literature - Giles.djvu/157

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145
POETRY

The effect produced by these tones is very marked and pleasing to the ear, and often makes up for the faultiness of the rhymes, which are simply the rhymes of the Odes as heard 2500 years ago, many of them of course being no longer rhymes at all. Thus, there is as much artificiality about a stanza of Chinese verse as there is about an Alcaic stanza in Latin. But in the hands of the most gifted this artificiality is altogether concealed by art, and the very trammels of tone and rhyme become transfigured, and seem to be necessary aids and adjuncts to success. Many works have been published to guide the student in his admittedly difficult task. The first rule in one of these seems so comprehensive as to make further perusal quite unnecessary. It runs thus:— "Discard commonplace form; discard commonplace ideas; discard commonplace phrasing; discard commonplace words; discard commonplace rhymes."

A long poem does not appeal to the Chinese mind. There is no such thing as an epic in the language, though, of course, there are many pieces extending to several hundred lines. Brevity is indeed the soul of a Chinese poem, which is valued not so much for what it says as for what it suggests. As in painting, so in poetry suggestion is the end and aim of the artist, who in each case may be styled an impressionist. The ideal length is twelve lines, and this is the limit set to candidates at the great public examinations at the present day, the Chinese holding that if a poet cannot say within such compass what he has to say it may very well be left unsaid. The eight-line poem is also a favourite, and so, but for its extreme difficulty, is the four-line epigram, or "stop-short," so called because of its abruptness, though, as the critics explain, "it is