木末芙蓉花 on branches’ tips, hibiscus flowers

My apologies if my translation in English is wrong or misleading 🙂

Obviously, last week my journey through the Chinese language went through the 唐诗三百首 (Three hundred T’ang poems)…

I do not know in other countries- but in Italy, while studying Latin, we were also guided through poetry by taking it apart and studying its “technicalities”, and not just its meaning.

My current “Virgil” through Chinese culture is a book that I referred to few weeks ago, that actually uses a discussion on language and its representation (including, of course, poetry) as a way to talk also about the Chinese history (in Italian: Lavagnino – Pozzi “Cultura cinese. Segno, scrittura e civiltà” https://www.librarything.com/work/15355960/book/112747795).

It is quite “dense”, i.e. packed with information and, probably, worth reading and re-reading it while my Chinese language skills will improve.

For the time being, as I did with the “Classical Chinese” books, my aim is raising awareness of the cultural and historical context, so that I can better understand the “generative” side of language, i.e. how it evolved and how it could probably evolve.

I did the same decades ago with German- and my girlfriend said that sometimes I made up words (obviously, by juxtaposition of two elements that I assumed delivered the concept), in a strange but yet understandable way, so that she could point me to the right word (I found German a more “visual” language than most assume).

Anyway, I assume that probably reading my commentary on my own learning is not that much relevant, and I would like instead, as usual, to share links to material that could be useful.

A website that contains the “Three Hundred” collection is http://zhongwen.com/tangshi.htm – albeit the links to the English version are dead; you can navigate through the poems by author, or in sequential order, and click on each character to see its meaning.

As for an English translation, on http://www.archive.org you can find the audio version, https://archive.org/details/300_tang_poems_vol_1_librivox (change the _1_ to 2, 3, 4- it is in four parts); some of the poems are also available as Acrobat files, not just audio, and if you want you can also download the CD covers and leaflets (Librivox is a free teamwork delivering audiobooks of books that are out of print and not covered by copyright).

The title of this post? A bit from Wang Wei (see http://www.columbia.edu/itc/eacp/asiasite/topics/index.html?topic=WangWei+subtopic=Intro), but you can also read an analysis on http://www.mukogawa-u.ac.jp/~itcs/publications/IU_vol2/pdf/1-6_article.pdf

The reason why I picked that bit as a title? Well, don’t look at my translation (closer to the one in Italian provided by the book that I am reading than to what you can obtain from GoogleTranslate).

Look instead at the almost musical “crescendo” of each character: the first one representing wood, the additional horizontal stroke in the second one turning that into a the tip of a branch (or “tree’s ends”), followed by further evolution in the next two characters and, as the Italian author of the book says, a last 花 (“hua”- see http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/%E8%8A%B1).

So, I liked both the evolution from the first to the fourth character, and the closing on a character that is shared across few Asian languages.

It is also interesting considering something else, i.e. how the four tones that are now “standard” in Mandarin Chinese evolved, and how this had an impact on the structure of poetry.

But, frankly, probably that is just a curiosity for myself (I am used while delivering training or presentation to do a similar “multisensorial” approach: talk, make a sketch on a whiteboard, and move around while using gestures to underline what I say), but it is still too early in my learning path: so, something to keep in the back of my mind- as also Latin, that we Italians assume should be read as we read Italian, had few evolutions in pronunciation and writing, but obviously a simple alphabet delivers less freedom to convey more layers just with how you write something and how it looks.

The search for sources and explanatory material about the T’ang (or Tang) poems brought me, by accident, to something else, that will complement my current reading of few books that are attempts at doing what Toynbee did in the XX century, i.e. a study of history across cultures.

But more about this maybe in two weeks…

Meanwhile… have a nice week!

PS Please read the introduction to understand how to use this website

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