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Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Ch'I Yen Shih

Ch'i-Yen-Shih metre
This is, believe it or not, a Chinese verse form. Whether it's worth doing in English is debatable. Stanzas have four lines of seven syllables each, with lines 2 and 4 rhyming. Each line has a caesura, or break, after the fourth syllable; I have laid the example out to emphasise this. That's all there is to it, really, except that, to make it sound a little more Chinese, only words of one syllable should be used. 

Long straight black road
far from home.
The moon hangs snagged
in the trees.
Foot down, I speed
through the night.
Rain falls in sheets,
starts to freeze.

The cats eyes pulse
like Morse code.
Far sparks speed close,
blaze then fade.
For hours on end
there’s no change:
Road, light, rain, wind,
screen and blade.

I’m tired and cold,
on my own.
How much of this
can I take?
I grit my teeth,
try to guess
How long I’ll last
till I brake.

Thanks to Bob Newman for his wonderful Volecentral resource site

Ancient Verse is probably the same verse form as Ch'I Yen Shih from the Lu Shi code verse. Ancient Verse is found desribed in John Drury's poe-try-dic-tion-ar-y and is similar to Ch'I Yen Shi, with slight variation. As described by Drury, caesura was not specified and more latitude was given in the character count. This is probably an example of how form evolves or is corrupted by translation. For now I will treat this verse form as separate.

(Drury uses "syllable count") Technically in Chinese prosody, character count and syllable count are one in the same since Chinese characters are one word and Chinese words are usually one syllable. However in English translation, a character could represent a 2 or 3 syllable English word. I use "character" in most of my metric descriptions of Chinese verse and often count words rather than syllables when attempting to write poems using Chinese verse forms in English. However, since Drury's book describes the meter for this form as syllabic, I follow his lead.

Ancient Verse is:
  • stanzaic, written in quatrains.
  • syllabic, 5 to 7 syllable lines.
  • rhymed, rhyme scheme either xaxa xaxa etc or xaxa xbxb etc.
  • no fixed tone pattern.
  • always composed with parallels and balance.

    pyramid by Judi Van Gorder

    fresh dug dirt makes space and waits
    rich earth forms a pyramid
    to welcome polished pine box
    with white roses on the lid

Thanks to Judi Van Gorder for her wonderful PMO resource site.

My example poem

Surveillance       (Ch'I Yen Shih)

My house has eyes in the dark
Big dogs see but first they smell.
I don't switch them - off or on
still they serve as my door bell.

© Lawrencealot - April 9, 2014

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