Poems of Bai Juyi
New Lyric Poetry, Our Manifesto
|序曰 凡九千二百十二言 断为五十篇 篇无定句 句无定字 系於意而不系於文 首句标其目 卒章显其志 诗三百之义也 其辞质而径 欲见之者易谕也 其言直而切 欲闻之者深诫也 其事核而实 使采之者传信也 其体顺而律 可以播於乐章歌曲也 总而言之 为君 为臣 为民 为物 为事而作 不为文而作也|
|We say: Here are 9212 ordinary words divided among 50 poetic categories. Categories do not determine phrases. Phrases do not determine words. Connections exist in the mind, not in literary language. Here, the first phrase proclaims the work's goal. The final phrase makes clear its aspirations. Yet each poem has three hundred meanings. Its statement is plain and direct. Its readers can clearly understand it. Its words are fair and precise. Its listeners are deeply admonished. Its subject is penetrating and honest. Its audience can pass on its meaning to others. Its form follows natural principles. It can be read as poetry or performed as a song. And so, whether it is about nobles and courtiers or about peasants and simple things, each poem comes from real life, not from the dead patterns of literary form.|
Around 815, Bai Juyi, Yuan Zhen, and others put together a book of New Lyric Poetry. This is their publication's preface. What I have translated as "Our Manifesto" (并序) is more literally "Our Preface." My only thought here is that, rather than conceive a new form, Bai Juyi and his friends have taken an existing, perhaps popular form, and made it more popular, direct, and accessible.
It is said that Bai Juyi would read his poems to his servants and change anything they did not understand. I think he did this, not with every poem, but with those intended for a wide audience. I think he is conceiving of New Lyric Poetry as a form intended for a wide and populist audience. Perhaps we might call it the Poetry of Compassion.
On another note, I would like to say that I view with suspicion the adding of modern punctuation to classic Chinese texts. I think it is silly, presumptuous, vain. On the other hand, as a translator, one must choose what one considers to be the meaningful divisions of the unpunctuated block of characters. So I have introduced spaces in the original text to show what my decisions were. It would be nice if those were Bai Juyi's choices too.