Writing Poetry Can Begin After Eighty:
My Father as a Poet in Process
---- Composing Song-poems (sòng cí 宋词) after Retirement
Xie Bangxiu (Wuhan China)
Writing Poetry Can Begin After Eighty
In the spirit of Confucius, Whiteheadian thinkers emphasize that education is a lifelong process and that much of our learning can occur in our later years. They also emphasize that this learning can involve romance: that is, falling in love with a possibility for creativity, such as writing poetry, and learning more about it, which Whitehead calls “precision.”
I have first-hand experience of how these ideas can be embodied in a person’s life, in this case my father. A few years ago, my father told me that he fancied composing a poem following the Song-poem style. He found it interesting, exciting, a good and pleasant way to spend time, though challenging. I was very glad to hear this and I have been encouraging him to go on ever since.
Gradually, he is taking it more and more seriously, and he is starting to learn more of and about the Song-poem style poetry. He continues with the creation of Song-poem style poems, and has finished composing more than two hundred and sixty poems of his own.
His method or approach is one that is improvisational, in the Whiteheadian spirit. He obtains information, ideas, and feelings from myriad rich resources: his past experiences, his daily life, his travels, books he has read, newspapers, TV programs and Internet websites. The content of his poems covers a wide range, from big international and national events to tiny things or happenings in his daily life; from important historical figures to people around him (his children, grandchildren and great-grand children, his colleagues and friends), from his childhood to his senior years (covering over eighty years).
In my eyes, each of his poems is wonderfully written and meaningful. Actually the very fact that he, at the age over eighty, has started learning and composing poems is inspiring to me, to my whole family, even as he himself is inspired. This is another Whiteheadian idea: a person’s enthusiasm can be contagious. As persons-in-community we share not only household tasks and responsibilities, but feelings.
Indeed, he and I are sharing feelings now, through the Internet. We want to share some of his experience with more people, home and abroad, so I’m writing these introductory remarks as a manner of sharing.
Let me first of all give a brief introduction of the Song-poem (sòng cí宋词) style poetry in China. Cí(词), a form of poetry, originated in folk circles, starting from the Tang Dynasty and prevailed in the Song Dynasty. This kind of poetry has been considered by successive generations as the most representative literary form of the Song Dynasty, and is as well known as the poetry in the Tang Dynasty, so that people speak of the two kinds of poetry as “Tang-poetry and Song-poem”. Song poems absorb ideas and attitudes from The Book of Songs, Songs of the Chu State and Poetry of the Six Dynasties, and then provide nutrients for the Ming and Qing fiction and drama. Even today, Song-poems are still cultivating people's sentiments, enriching and coloring people’s life, and bringing elegant art enjoyment for people. My father’s practice of composing poems according to its patterns, rhythms and tunes to express his own experiences, feelings and understandings of life and events is a good case in point.
Song-poems are a type of musical literature: that is, they have the characteristics of both literature and music. Literati composed new poems in accordance with musical rhythms and beats, called “putting in words (lyrics)” or “following the music”, which separated words or lyrics from music, and thus a type of rhyme poems with sentences of different lengths came into being, showing the beauty of variation. Being lyrics going with music, poem (cí词) is also called “lyrics of songs（曲子词）”, “music（乐章）”, and “long-short sentences（长短句）”, etc. Each poem has a name for its tune, called “cípaí(词牌)”. Some of the tunes have different genres because of different numbers of Chinese characters or different patterns of sentences. There are about 100 commonly used tunes (cípaí词牌). According to its structure, a poem can be divided into word-fragments (piàn片) or word-tie-downs (què阕). A poem with no division of word-fragments is called monotone, one with two word- fragments double-tone, and one with three word-fragments triad.
According to its music, it consists of four types, lìng(令), yǐn(引), jìn(近), and màn(慢), of which lìng is the shortest, yǐn and jìn are longer (than lìng), while màn is the longest. According to the number of its characters, a poem can be a “short lìng (xiǎo lìng小令)”, “medium tone (zhōng diào中调)” or “long tone (cháng diào长调)”, among which a “short lìng” is composed of less than 58 characters, “medium tone” of 59-90 characters, and “long tone” over 90 characters. The longest tune, “Yīng Tí Xǜ（莺啼序）”, consists of 240 characters.
In this website we have said that music is what feelings sound like. The Song poems are a vivid example of this, because the tunes of different Song poems reflect different tones and emotions. The rhyme of a poem is important, too. It tells us where to pause according to the music. A rhyme usually goes throughout a poem without being changed. Some poems rhyme at the end of each sentence, some rhyme at the end of every two sentences, and still some rhyme with several sentences in between.
With this in mind, I want to share with you one of my father’s poems, which is itself a response to an article I wrote in JJB: “Qìn Yuán Chūn·My Gratitude to Her Mentors”.
(To be continued...)
1. Searching on Line.
2. Handwriting of a Poem: Reflection on Visiting EXPO 2010 Shanghai China
3. Composing a New Poem.
4. Collecting Information from Websites.
5. Traveling in Shanghai.
6. Visiting EXPO 2010 Shanghai China.
7. Making a Speech on the EXPO.
8. Traveling in Suzhou.
9. Visiting Fuzimiao in Nanjing.
10. Talking with a Farmer in a Village.
11. Relaxing on a Journey: Pointing at Something Beyond His Touch.
12. Traveling in Zigui.
13. Traveling in Longzhong Xiangfan.
14. Back to Mianyang, His Home Village.
15. At Home: Holding their Great Grand-daughter.