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Shi Poetry, flowers and Hummingbirds: an example of writing poems in Chinese poetic style

Updated on January 16, 2014

What is Shi Poetry?

The earliest Chinese poetry is found in the Shijing or Book of Poetry, and contains poems written as early as 1027 B.C.E. These poems fall into four categories: airs standardized from the folk songs of the common people, songs or hymns of nobility; odes of praise for rulers; and odes written for religious ceremony.

Songs often include a four word line, a four line stanza, rhymes on even lines and the use of metaphor, simile, synecdoche, puns, onomatopoeia, rhyming and reduplicative compounds, alliteration and puns as well as parallelism.- see Bob's Glossary to define any unfamiliar terms.

Example from Book of Poetry

One such song is The Peach Tree Tender:

The peach tree budding and tender.
Vivid and bright its flowers.
This girl is going to be married,
And fit for her chamber and house.

The peach tree budding and tender,
Quite large its fruit.
This girl is going to be married,
And fit for her house and chamber.

The peach tree budding and tender,
Its leaves luxuriant and lush.
This girl is going to be married,
And fits with all in the family.

This poem has a tetrameter rhythm and rhyme scheme (abab/acac/ adad- although this is not apparent in the English translation, it exists in Chinese) that is balanced and suits the nature of the match- the bride will fit well with his family.

The bride is compared to the peach, which is a traditional fertility symbol, and the flowers reference the beauty of her face.

Later poems in this collection do not have such a strict rhythm and rhyme but do have three elements in common; they all have exposition or a rhyme-prose style that reflects what is happening in the poem, such as the balance illustrated above; comparison as in comparing the young girl to a peach or a flower; and affective image which invokes the reader's participation, for "without emotionally arousing the reader first, and thus setting the response process in motion, a poem is nothing but a series of sounds or, in its written form, a mass of physical remarks."


My attempt at exposition, comparison and affective imaging- my rhyme scheme is abcd/ebfd/gbhd/ibjd if this is a rhyme scheme, lol. I attempted to keep the images consistent while telling a metaphorical story in the same vein as what I have learned thus far about Shi poetry...

The hummingbird zips through a sliding door,
Radiating energy and internal joy.
Wall without windows. Flower without scent.
Light beams warm and bright.

The hummingbird hits a panel of glass,
Suffocating energy and confusing joy.
Window without wind. Nectar beyond reach.
Sun sets orange as night.

The hummingbird falls in a shopping bag,
Surrendering energy, relinquishing joy.
Wafting without lift. Deflowered of life.
Darkness saps her might.

The hummingbird rallies by the sliding door,
Summoning fresh energy, reinforcing joy.
Rising with the wind as pistils lapping light
Winged one takes flight.

© 2009 Barbara


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    • Nellieanna profile image

      Nellieanna Hay 7 years ago from TEXAS

      What an interesting mind you have.

    • sherrylou57 profile image

      sherrylou57 7 years ago from Riverside

      I like your poetry. I read it to the very beginning to the end. I like how you ended the poem "The winged one takes flight."

    • Storytellersrus profile image

      Barbara 8 years ago from Stepping past clutter

      Ben, I am sure I am doing my own study, lol. But I am finding a great deal to ponder.

      Aya, I studied Mandarin in college but this experience only gave me an insight into the language. I am reading Zong-Qi Cai's book How To Read Chinese Poetry IN ENGLISH!!! It is a challenge and I have been remiss while my father in law is dying. But I intend to return to this study soon. Please tell me more about what you are discovering regarding the linking verb "shi"- are you reading Sian L. Yen's book on the subject?

    • Aya Katz profile image

      Aya Katz 8 years ago from The Ozarks

      Storytellersrus, I didn't realize you had a hub about the Book of Odes. My friend June and I are studying the use of the copula "shi" in that book to determine its grammaticalization path! Are you reading it in translation or in the original? It's wonderful to discover that you and I have so many interests in common!

    • Ben Zoltak profile image

      Ben Zoltak 8 years ago from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA

      That is fascinating, it's one of if not the oldest histories in the world, so I could see lots of room for interpreting trends.

    • Storytellersrus profile image

      Barbara 8 years ago from Stepping past clutter

      Sounds like a dinosaur, lol. Thanks for stopping by, Ben. Chinese poetry fascinates me because it comes out of a very long and consistent history. It's like tracking trends.

    • Ben Zoltak profile image

      Ben Zoltak 8 years ago from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA

      Very interesting, I haven't read much about Chinese poetry, thanks for the introduction and I enjoyed your hummingbird in the shopping bag poem, ironic and strange enough to be interesting! Thank Storytellersaurus!

    • Benjimester profile image

      Benji Mester 8 years ago from San Diego, California

      Another lover of Chinese poetry!! I'm very impressed. Your poem has the same feel as theirs, which is quite difficult to duplicate. I've never read the Shijing, but I love the Tao Te Ching, which has a similar style and feel. Now I'm all inspired to go and read poetry :)

    • tonymac04 profile image

      Tony McGregor 8 years ago from South Africa

      Great stuff! Gave me much to think about and enjoy.

      Love and peace


    • Amanda Severn profile image

      Amanda Severn 8 years ago from UK

      Hi Barb, this is something different! I think your poem has more energy than the Chines example, and it conjures up an interesting image. I'm glad the story had a happy ending!

    • Storytellersrus profile image

      Barbara 8 years ago from Stepping past clutter

      Thank you coffeesnob. I tip a floral mug to your expresso joy.

    • profile image

      coffeesnob 8 years ago

      I love this! What a beautiful imagery of the hummingbirds flight into a false flower so to speak and then her attenpt at freedom and having to acquiesce to the darkness and then suddenly again finding freedom and the sense of joy in being free. Whew! great thoughts rolling here.

      "Rising with the wind as pistils lapping light. Winged one takes flight."

      Loved this ending