COOL POEMS: Introduction

Each of the poems in this section could be the subject of a China Mirror unit, but we’ve left it to our visitors to use them as topics of discussion in their own ways.

One approach is to imagine Earth has sent an expedition to Mars and has found traces of an ancient civilization. Imagine further that archaeologists find the ruins of the most important room in a major library but only one text remains, the single poem you have chosen to discuss (or, if you prefer, the set of poems in one of our sections or the entire China Mirror set). What minimum conclusions can you draw about that ancient Martian culture from the evidence provided in the poem? Remember, you can never generalize from any text or object by imagining that it represents a typical or common view. What one can presume, seeing that it was found in the most important room of a major library, is that it represents one point of view that was respected or even cherished in that cultural tradition. Beyond that you can deduce at a minimum that:

This civilization recognized poetry as a literary genre.
Subjects appropriate to poetry included (you can list the subjects represented here).
Individual poets were recognized as literary masters with names, dates, life histories, etc. (which is to say, poetry wasn’t left to anonymous court poets).
There was a literary culture.
The presence of dates indicates that this civilization had some sense of history: some poets wrote at an earlier time than others.

After that the fun begins. Each poem is rich in implied content, taking for granted many social, political, and cultural institutions which readers can pry out from between the lines as long as you always remember that you are getting one view within a spectrum of views. We include brief comments on the poems to provide basic background and as food for thought. Different scholars might arrive at different interpretations; those provided here are possible and reasonable but other interpretations could be defended as well.

The poems are divided into four categories: Family, Love, Politics, and Art. Many poems could fit under more than one category, so the distribution is to some extent arbitrary. Topic headings are provided by China Mirror for the reader’s convenience and are not part of the original Chinese publication. Unless otherwise noted, all translations are by Martin Powers.


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