Page:Sacred Books of the East - Volume 3.djvu/309

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Chapter I.
The Name and Contents of the Classic.

1. Among the Chinese classical books next after the Shû in point of antiquity comes the Shih or Book of Poetry.

The meaning of the character Shih.The character Shû[1], as formed by the combination of two others, one of which signified 'a pencil,' and the other 'to speak,' supplied, we saw in its structure, an indication of its primary significance, and furnished a clue to its different applications. The character Shih[2] was made on a different principle,—that of phonetical formation, in the peculiar sense of these words when applied to a large class of Chinese terms. The significative portion of it is the character for 'speech,' but the other half is merely phonetical, enabling us to approximate to its pronunciation or name. The meaning of the compound has to be learned from its usage. Its most common significations are 'poetry,' 'a poem, or poems,' and 'a collection of poems.' This last is its meaning when we speak of the Shih or the Shih King.

The earliest Chinese utterance that we have on the subject of poetry is that in the Shû by the ancient Shun, when he said to his Minister of Music, 'Poetry is the expression of earnest thought, and singing is the prolonged

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