Shih King or the Book of Poetry
Source: The Sacred Books of China: The Texts of Confucianism. Part I The Shu King, the Religious Portions of the Shih King, the Hsiao King, trans. James Legge (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1879). Introduction to the Shih King.
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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 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 utterance of that expression.’ To the same effect is the language of a Preface to the Shih, sometimes ascribed to Confucius, and certainly older than our Christian era:—‘Poetry is the product of earnest thought. Thought cherished in the mind becomes earnest; then expressed in words, it becomes poetry. The feelings move inwardly, and are embodied in words. When words are insufficient for them, recourse is had to sighs and exclamations. When sighs and exclamations are insufficient for them, recourse is had to the prolonged utterance of song. When this again is insufficient, unconsciously the hands begin to move and the feet to dance. . . . . To set forth correctly the successes and failures (of government), to affect Heaven and Earth, and to move spiritual beings, there is no readier instrument than poetry.’
Rhyme, it may be added here, is a necessary accompaniment of poetry in the estimation of the Chinese. Only in a very few pieces of the Shih is it neglected.
The whole collection is divided into four parts, called the Kwo F?ng, the Hsiâo Yâ, the Tâ Yâ, and the Sung.
The Kwo F?ng, in fifteen Books, contains 160 pieces, nearly all of them short, and descriptive of manners and events in several of the feudal states of Kâu. The title has been translated by The Manners of the Different States, ‘Les Mœurs des Royaumes,’ and, which I prefer, by Lessons from the States.
The Hsiâo Yâ, or Lesser Yâ, in eight Books, contains seventy-four pieces and the titles of six others, sung at gatherings of the feudal princes, and their appearances at the royal court. They were produced in the royal territory, and are descriptive of the manners and ways of the government in successive reigns. It is difficult to find an English word that shall fitly represent the Chinese Yâ as here used. In his Latin translation of the Shih, P. Lacharme translated Hsiâo Yâ by ‘Quod rectum est, sed inferiore ordine,’ adding in a note:—‘Siâo Yâ, latine Parvum Rectum, quia in hac Parte mores describuntur, recti illi quidem, qui tamen nonnihil a recto deflectunt.’ But the manners described are not less correct or incorrect, as the case may be, than those of the states in the former Part or of the kingdom in the next. I prefer to call this Part ‘Minor Odes of the Kingdom,’ without attempting to translate the term Yâ.
The Tâ Yâ or Greater Yâ, in three Books, contains thirty-one pieces, sung on great occasions at the royal court and in the presence of the king. P. Lacharme called it ‘Magnum Rectum (Quod rectum est superiore ordine).’ But there is the same objection here to the use of the word ‘correct’ as in the case of the pieces of the previous Part. I use the name ‘Major Odes of the Kingdom.’ The greater length and dignity of most of the pieces justify the distinction of the two Parts into Minor and Major.
The Sung, also in three Books, contains forty pieces, thirty-one of which belong to the sacrificial services at the royal court of Kâu; four, to those of the marquises of Lû; and five to the corresponding sacrifices of the kings of Shang. P. Lacharme denominated them correctly ‘Parentales Cantus.’ In the Preface to the Shih, to which I have made reference above, it is said, ‘The Sung are pieces in admiration of the embodied manifestation of complete virtue, announcing to the spiritual Intelligences their achievement thereof.’ Kû Hsî’s account of the Sung was—‘Songs for the Music of the Ancestral Temple;’ and that of Kiang Yung of the present dynasty—‘Songs for the Music at Sacrifices.’ I have united these two definitions, and call the Part—‘Odes of the Temple and the Altar.’ There is a difference between the pieces of Lû and the other two collections in this Part, to which I will call attention in giving the translation of them.
My reason for touching here on this point is the earliest account of the Shih, as a collection either already formed or in the process of formation, that we find in Chinese literature. In the Official Book of Kâu, generally supposed to be a work of the twelfth or eleventh century bc, among the duties of the Grand Music-Master there is ‘the teaching,’ (that is, to the musical performers,) ‘the six classes of poems:—the F?ng; the Fû; the Pî; the Hsing; the Yâ; and the Sung.’ That the collection of the Shih, as it now is, existed so early as the date assigned to the Official Book could not be; but we find the same account of it given in the so-called Confucian Preface. The F?ng, the Yâ, and the Sung are the four Parts of the classic described in the preceding paragraph, the Yâ embracing both the Minor and Major Odes of the Kingdom. But what were the Fû, the Pî, and the Hsing? We might suppose that they were the names of three other distinct Parts or Books. But they were not so. Pieces so discriminated are found in all the four Parts, though there are more of them in the first two than in the others.
The Fû may be described as Narrative pieces, in which the writers tell what they have to say in a simple, straightforward manner, without any hidden meaning reserved in the mind. The metaphor and other figures of speech enter into their composition as freely as in descriptive poems in any other language.
The Pî are Metaphorical pieces, in which the poet has under his language a different meaning from what it expresses,—a meaning which there should be nothing in that language to indicate. Such a piece may be compared to the Æsopic fable; but, while it is the object of the fable to inculcate the virtues of morality and prudence, an historical interpretation has to be sought for the metaphorical pieces of the Shih. Generally, moreover, the moral of the fable is subjoined to it, which is never done in the case of these pieces.
The Hsing have been called Allusive pieces. They are very remarkable, and more numerous than the metaphorical. They often commence with a couple of lines which are repeated without change, or with slight rhythmical changes, in all the stanzas. In other pieces different stanzas have allusive lines peculiar to themselves. Those lines are descriptive, for the most part, of some object or circumstance in the animal or vegetable world, and after them the poet proceeds to his proper subject. Generally, the allusive lines convey a meaning harmonizing with those which follow, where an English poet would begin the verses with Like or As. They are really metaphorical, but the difference between an allusive and a metaphorical piece is this,—that in the former the writer proceeds to state the theme which his mind is occupied with, while no such intimation is given in the latter. Occasionally, it is difficult, not to say impossible, to discover the metaphorical idea in the allusive lines, and then we can only deal with them as a sort of refrain.
In leaving this subject, it is only necessary to say further that the allusive, the metaphorical, and the narrative elements sometimes all occur in the same piece.Chapter II.
The Shih before Confucius, and what, if any, were his Labours upon it.
I have not been able to find evidence sustaining these representations, and must adopt the view that, before the birth of Confucius,
3. i. It would not be surprising, if, floating about and current among the people of China in the sixth century before our era, there had been more than 3000 pieces of poetry. The marvel is that such was not the case. But in the Narratives of the States, a work of the Kâu dynasty, and ascribed by many to ?o Khiû-ming, there occur quotations from thirty-one poems, made by statesmen and others, all anterior to Confucius; and of those poems there are not more than two which are not in the present classic. Even of those two, one is an ode of it quoted under another name. Further, in the ?o Kwan, certainly the work of Khiû-ming, we have quotations from not fewer than 219 poems, of which only thirteen are not found in the classic. Thus of 250 poems current in China before the supposed compilation of the Shih, 236 are found in it, and only fourteen are absent. To use the words of Kâo Yî, a scholar of the present dynasty, ‘If the poems existing in Confucius’ time had been more than 3000, the quotations of poems now lost in these two works should have been ten times as numerous as the quotations from the 305 pieces said to have been preserved by him, whereas they are only between a twenty-first and twenty-second part of the existing pieces. This is sufficient to show that Khien’s statement is not worthy of credit.’
ii. Of the existence of the Book of Poetry before Confucius, digested in four Parts, and much in the same order as at present, there may be advanced the following proofs:—
First. There is the passage in the Official Book of Kâu, quoted and discussed in the last paragraph of the preceding chapter. We have in it a distinct reference to poems, many centuries before the sage, arranged and classified in the same way as those of the existing Shih. Our Shih, no doubt, was then in the process of formation.
Second. In the ninth piece of the sixth decade of the Shih, Part II, an ode assigned to the time of king Yû, bc 781 to 771, we have the words,
- ‘They sing the Yâ and the Nan,
- Dancing to their flutes without error.’
So early, therefore, as the eighth century bc there was a collection of poems, of which some bore the name of the Nan, which there is much reason to suppose were the Kâu Nan and the Shâo Nan, forming the first two Books of the first Part of the present Shih; and of which others bore the name of the Yâ, being, probably, the earlier pieces that now compose a large portion of the second and third Parts.
Third. In the narratives of ?o Khiû-ming, under the twenty-ninth year of duke Hsiang, bc 544, when Confucius was only seven or eight years old, we have an account of a visit to the court of Lû by an envoy from Wû, an eminent statesman of the time, and a man of great learning. We are told that as he wished to hear the music of Kâu, which he could do better in Lû than in any other state, they sang to him the odes of the Kâu Nan and the Shâo Nan; those of Phei, Yung, and Wei; of the Royal Domain; of K?ng; of Khî; of Pin; of Khin; of Wei; of Thang; of Kh?n; of Kwei; and of ?hâo. They sang to him also the odes of the Minor Yâ and the Greater Yâ; and they sang finally the pieces of the Sung. We have thus, existing in the boyhood of Confucius, what we may call the present Book of Poetry, with its F?ng, its Yâ, and its Sung. The only difference discernible is slight,—in the order in which the Books of the F?ng followed one another.
Fourth. We may appeal in this matter to the words of Confucius himself. Twice in the Analects he speaks of the Shih as a collection consisting of 300 pieces1 . That work not being made on any principle of chronological order, we cannot positively assign those sayings to any particular years of Confucius’ life; but it is, I may say, the unanimous opinion of Chinese critics that they were spoken before the time to which Khien and Kû Hsî refer his special labour on the Book of Poetry.
To my own mind the evidence that has been adduced is decisive on the points which I specified. The Shih, arranged very much as we now have it, was current in China before the time of Confucius, and its pieces were in the mouths of statesmen and scholars, constantly quoted by them on festive and other occasions. Poems not included in it there doubtless were, but they were comparatively few. Confucius may have made a copy for the use of himself and his disciples; but it does not appear that he rejected any pieces which had been previously received into the collection, or admitted any which had not previously found a place in it.
While we cannot discover, therefore, any peculiar and important labours of Confucius on the Shih, and we have it now, as will be shown in the next chapter, substantially as he found it already compiled to his hand, the subsequent preservation of it may reasonably be attributed to the admiration which he expressed for it, and the enthusiasm for it with which he sought to inspire his disciples. It was one of the themes on which he delighted to converse with them1 . He taught that it is from the poems that the mind receives its best stimulus2 . A man ignorant of them was, in his opinion, like one who stands with his face towards a wall, limited in his view, and unable to advance3 . Of the two things that his son could specify as enjoined on him by the sage, the first was that he should learn the odes4 . In this way Confucius, probably, contributed largely to the subsequent preservation of the Shih,—the preservation of the tablets on which the odes were inscribed, and the preservation of it in the memory of all who venerated his authority, and looked up to him as their master.Chapter III.
The Shih from the Time of Confucius till the General Acknowledgment of the Present Text.
4. But while those three different recensions of the Shih all disappeared, with the exception of a single treatise of Han Ying, their unhappy fate was owing not more to the convulsions by which the empire was often rent, and the consequent destruction of literary monuments such as we have witnessed in China in our own day,
The Chinese critics have carefully traced the line of scholars who had charge of Mâo’s Text and Explanations down to the reign of Phing. The names of the men and their works are all given. By the end of the first quarter of our first century we find the most famous scholars addicting themselves to Mâo’s text. The well-known Kiâ Khwei (ad 30 to 101) published a work on the Meaning and Difficulties of Mâo’s Shih, having previously compiled a digest of the differences between its text and those of the other three recensions, at the command of the emperor Ming (ad 58 to 75). The equally celebrated Mâ Yung (ad 79 to 166) followed with another commentary;—and we arrive at K?ng Hsüan or K?ng Khang-kh?ng (ad 127 to 200), who wrote a Supplementary Commentary to the Shih of Mâo, and a Chronological Introduction to the Shih. The former of these two works complete, and portions of the latter, are still extant. After the time of K?ng the other three texts were little heard of, while the name of the commentators on Mâo’s text speedily becomes legion. It was inscribed, moreover, on the stone tablets of the emperor Ling (ad 168 to 189). The grave of Mâo K?ng is still shown near the village of ?un-fû, in the departmental district of Ho-kien, Kih-lî.
On the whole, the evidence given above is as full as could be desired in such a case, and leaves no reason for us to hesitate in accepting the present received text of the Shih as a very close approximation to that which was current in the time of Confucius.Chapter IV.
The Formation of the Collection of the Shih; how it came to be so Small and Incomplete; the Interpretation and Authors of the Pieces; one Point of Time certainly indicated in it; and the Confucian Preface.
1. It has been shown above, in the second chapter, that the Shih existed as a collection of poetical pieces before the time of Confucius1 . In order to complete this Introduction to it, it is desirable to give some account of the various subjects indicated in the heading of the present chapter.
How were the odes collected in the first place? In his Account of a Conversation concerning ‘a Right Regulation of Governments for the Common Good of Mankind’ (Edinburgh, 1704), p. 10, Sir Andrew Fletcher, of Saltoun, tells us the opinion of ‘a very wise man,’ that ‘if a man were permitted to make all the ballads of a nation, he need not care who should make its laws.’ A writer in the Spectator, no. 502, refers to a similar opinion as having been entertained in England earlier than the time of Fletcher. ‘I have heard,’ he says, ‘that a minister of state in the reign of Elizabeth had all manner of books and ballads brought to him, of what kind soever, and took great notice how they took with the people; upon which he would, and certainly might, very well judge of their present dispositions, and of the most proper way of applying them according to his own purposes2 .’
The rudiments of this theory may be found in the Shû, in the Canon of Shun; but the one classical passage which is appealed to in support of it is in the Record of Rites, III, ii, parr. 13, 14:—‘Every fifth year, the Son of Heaven made a progress through the kingdom, when the Grand Music-Master was commanded to lay before him the poems of the different states, as an exhibition of the manners and government of the people.’ Unfortunately, this Book of the Lî Kî, the Royal Ordinances, was compiled only in the reign of the emperor W?n of the Han dynasty (bc 179 to 155). The scholars entrusted with the work did their best, we may suppose, with the materials at their command. They made much use, it is evident, of Mencius, and of the Î Lî. The Kâu Lî, or the Official Book of Kâu, had not then been recovered. But neither in Mencius nor in the Î Lî do we meet with any authority for the statement before us. The Shû mentions that Shun every fifth year made a tour of inspection; but there were then no odes for him to examine, for to him and his minister Kâo-yâo is attributed the first rudimentary attempt at the poetic art. Of the progresses of the Hsiâ and Yin sovereigns we have no information; and those of the kings of Kâu were made, we know, only once in twelve years. The statement in the Royal Ordinances, therefore, was probably based only on tradition.
Notwithstanding the difficulties that beset this passage of the Lî Kî, I am not disposed to reject it altogether. It derives a certain amount of confirmation from the passage quoted from the Official Book of Kâu on p. 278, showing that in the Kâu dynasty there was a collection of poems, under the divisions of the F?ng, the Yâ, and the Sung, which it was the business of the Grand Music-Master to teach the musicians of the court. It may be accepted then, that the duke of Kâu, in legislating for his dynasty, enacted that the poems produced in the different feudal states should be collected on occasion of the royal progresses, and lodged thereafter among the archives of the bureau of music at the royal court. The same thing, we may presume à fortiori, would be done, at certain other stated times, with those produced within the royal domain itself.
The general conclusion to which we come is, that the existing Shih is the fragment of various collections made during the early reigns of the kings of Kâu, and added to at intervals, especially on the occurrence of a prosperous rule, in accordance with the regulation that has been preserved in the Lî Kî. How it is that we have in Part I odes of comparatively few of the states into which the kingdom was divided, and that the odes of those states extend only over a short period of their history:—for these things we cannot account further than by saying that such were the ravages of time and the results of disorder. We can only accept the collection as it is, and be thankful for it. How long before Confucius the collection was closed we cannot tell.
In Part II, the seventh ode of decade 2 was made by a Kiâ-fû, a noble of the royal court, but we know nothing more about him; the sixth of decade 6, by a eunuch styled M?ng-?ze; and the sixth of decade 7, from a concurrence of external testimonies, should be ascribed to duke Wû of Wei, bc 812 to 758.
In the third decade of Part III, the second piece was composed by the same duke Wû; the third by an earl of Zui in the royal domain; the fourth must have been made by one of king Hsüan’s ministers, to express the king’s feelings under the drought that was exhausting the kingdom; and the fifth and sixth claim to be the work of Yin Kî-fû, one of Hsüan’s principal officers.
4. The ninth ode of the fourth Book, Part II, gives us a note of time that enables us to fix the year of its composition in a manner entirely satisfactory, and proves also the correctness, back to that date, of the ordinary Chinese chronology. The piece is one of a group which their contents lead us to refer to the reign of king Yû, the son of Hsüan, bc 781 to 771. When we examine the chronology of his period, it is said that in his sixth year, bc 776, there was an eclipse of the sun. Now the ode commences:—
‘At the conjunction (of the sun and moon) in the tenth month, on the first day of the moon, which was Hsin-mâo, the sun was eclipsed.’
This eclipse is verified by calculation as having taken place in bc 776, on August 29th, the very day and month assigned to it in the poem.
‘Opinions of scholars are much divided as to the authorship of the Preface. Some ascribe it to Confucius; some to (his disciple) ?ze-hsiâ; and some to the historiographers of the states. In the absence of clear testimony it is impossible to decide the point, but the notice about Wei Hung (first century) in the Literary Biographies of Han1 would seem to make it clear that the Preface was his work. We must take into account, however, on the other hand, the statement of K?ng Khang-kh?ng, that the Preface existed as a separate document when Mâo appeared with his text, and that he broke it up, prefixing to each ode the portion belonging to it. The natural conclusion is, that the Preface had come down from a remote period, and that Hung merely added to it, and rounded it off. In accordance with this, scholars generally hold that the first sentences in the introductory notices formed the original Preface, which Mâo distributed, and that the following portions were subsequently added.
‘This view may appear reasonable; but when we examine those first sentences themselves, we find that some of them do not agree with the obvious meaning of the odes to which they are prefixed, and give only rash and baseless expositions. Evidently, from the first, the Preface was made up of private speculations and conjectures on the subject-matter of the odes, and constituted a document by itself, separately appended to the text. Then on its first appearance there were current the explanations of the odes that were given in connexion with the texts of Lû, Khî, and Han Ying, so that readers could know that it was the work of later hands, and not give entire credit to it. But when Mâo no longer published the Preface as a separate document, but each ode appeared with the introductory notice as a portion of the text, this seemed to give it the authority of the text itself. Then after the other texts disappeared and Mâo’s had the field to itself, this means of testing the accuracy of its prefatory notices no longer existed. They appeared as if they were the production of the poets themselves, and the odes seemed to be made from them as so many themes. Scholars handed down a faith in them from one to another, and no one ventured to express a doubt of their authority. The text was twisted and chiseled to bring it into accordance with them, and no one would undertake to say plainly that they were the work of the scholars of the Han dynasty.’
There is no western sinologist, I apprehend, who will not cordially concur with me in the principle of Kû Hsî that we must find the meaning of the poems in the poems themselves, instead of accepting the interpretation of them given by we know not whom, and to follow which would reduce many of them to absurd enigmas.
[1 ] In stating that the odes were 300, Confucius probably preferred to use the round number. There are, as I said in the former chapter, altogether 305 pieces, which is the number given by Sze-mâ Khien. There are also the titles of six others. It is contended by Kû Hsî and many other scholars that these titles were only the names of tunes. More likely is the view that the text of the pieces so styled was lost after Confucius’ death.
[1 ] Analects, VII, xvii.
[2 ] Analects, VIII, viii, XVII, ix.
[3 ] Analects, XVII, x.
[4 ] Analects, XVI, xiii.
[1 ] All, in fact, unless we except the six pieces of Part II, of which we have only the titles. It is contended by Kû Hsî and others that the text of these had been lost before the time of Confucius. It may have been lost, however, after the sage’s death; see note on p. 283.
[1 ] As in the case of the Shû, Confucius generally speaks of ‘the Shih,’ never using the name of ‘the Shih King.’ In the Analects, IX, xiv, however, he mentions also the Yâ and the Sung; and in XVII, x, he specifies the Kâu Nan and the Shâo Nan, the first two books of the Kwo F?ng. Mencius similarly speaks of ‘the Shih;’ and in III, i, ch. 4, he specifies ‘the Sung of Lû,’ Book ii of Part IV. In VI, ii, ch. 3, he gives his views of the Hsiâo Phan, the third ode of decade 5, Part II, and of the Khâi Fung, the seventh ode of Book iii of Part I.
[2 ] This passage from the Spectator is adduced by Sir John Davis in his treatise on the Poetry of the Chinese, p. 35.
[1 ] See Mencius, IV, ii, ch. 21.
[1 ] Analects, II, ii.
[2 ] See the Shû, V, vi, par. 2.
[1 ] The account is this: ‘Hung became the disciple of Hsieh Man-khing, who was famous for his knowledge of Mâo’s Shih; and he afterwards made the Preface to it, remarkable for the accuracy with which it gives the meaning of the pieces in the F?ng and the Yâ, and which is now current in the world.’