Page:A history of Chinese literature - Giles.djvu/158

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CHINESE LITERATURE

only the words which stop, the sense goes on," some train of thought having been suggested to the reader. The latter form of verse was in use so far back as the Han dynasty, but only reached perfection under the T'angs. Although consisting of only twenty or twenty-eight words, according to the measure employed, it is just long enough for the poet to introduce, to develop, to embellish, and to conclude his theme in accordance with certain established laws of composition. The third line is considered the most troublesome to produce, some poets even writing it first; the last line should contain a "surprise" or dénouement. We are, in fact, reminded of the old formula, "Omne epigramma sit instar apis," &c., better known in its English dress:—

"The qualities rare in a bee that we meet
 In an epigram never should fail;
The body should always be little and sweet,
 And a sting should be left in the tail."


The following is an early specimen, by an anonymous writer, of the four-line poem:—

"The bright moon shining overhead,
 The stream beneath the breeze's touch,
Are pure and perfect joys indeed,—
 But few are they who think them such."


Turning now to the almost endless list of poets from which but a scanty selection can be made, we may begin with Wang Po (A.D. 648–676), a precocious boy who wrote verses when he was six. He took his degree at sixteen, and was employed in the Historical Department, but was dismissed for satirising the cock-fighting propensities of the Imperial princes. He filled up his leisure by composing many beautiful poems. He never