Can You Create Your Own Cipai?
E. C. Chang
Although there are so many established tunes, the basic principles under which tunes were composed are actually quite similar, if not the same. If ancient musicians or poets could create their tonal patterns, why can’t modern people do the same by applying the sample principles? As pointed out earlier, the tonal patterns for each poetic line, usually ranging from two to seven characters, are rather limited. To refresh our memory, let us list those basic line patterns below:
(2a)○○ (2b)△△ (2c)△○ (2d)○△
(3a)○○○ (3b)○○△ (3c)△○○ (3d)○△△ (3e)△△○ (3f)△△△
(4a)○○△△ (4b)△△○○ (4c) △○○△ (4d)○△△○ (4e)○○○△ (4f)△△△○
(5a)○○△△△ (5b)△△△○○ (5c)△△○○△ (5d) ○○△△○
(6a)○○△△○○ (6b)△△○○△△ (6c) △○○△△△ (6d) ○△○○○△ (6e)△○○△○○
(7a)○○△△○○△ (7b)△△○○△△○ (7c)△△○○○△△ (7d)○○△△△○○ (7e)△○○△○○△ (7f) ○△△○○△○
As you read more and more ci poems, you will notice that most tunes used to compose those great ci poems are quite similar in terms of their basic line patterns. If you happen to be interested in writing ci poetry, there is no reason why you cannot create your own cipai by arranging the above line patterns that sound pleasant to your ears. Of course, if you find it more convenient to write your ci poems based on the established tunes, you certainly can do that too.
Let me cite two poems that I wrote as examples for writing ci poems without the established cipai. These “cipai-less” poems may be called “simplified ci poetry” so as to distinguish them from those written on the basis of set patterns.
Allow me to add that I did not construct a set tune before I started composing the poem. Rather, whichever line pattern came next was dictated by the pace of my thought and emotion. In other words, I chose words that are consistent with line patterns, not the other way around.
My poems of course are in no way near the quality of those great poets whose works are included in this book. But the quality of the two examples is not at issue here. I just want to demonstrate that you can write your own ci poems if you don’t want to be confined with certain established patterns.
In my first poem, I use the ping-tone characters to set up my rhyme scheme. Notice that the ping-ze arrangement in each line is enclosed in the parenthesis. The line number is also given for easy reference.
The Double Nine Festival
Trees in the woods have put on new dresses.
Green leaves have transformed their colors
to yellow and red.
Once again the cool autumn has arrived.
It is the Double Nine Festival Day.
Every year on this day, I feel especially sad.
Who will sweep the site of a lonely grave
that is ten thousand miles away?
Who will burn joss money and joss sticks
in front of her burial place?
How can one forget a mother’s tears,
and a wandering son’s regret?
Suddenly many years have already passed.
Each year, there is always one day
to especially remind me of her face.
In the next poem, I tried a different approach: alternating a ze-tone rhyme with a ping-tone rhyme to generate some contrasting effect. As you can see, the line patterns chosen are the most typical ones in traditional poetry.
Standing tall are the mountain peaks.
They are shining bright at times,
if not gloomy or in the mist.
For thousands of years, the glacier
is the burial ground of accumulated snow.
The blue sky is reflected on
the emerald water below.
extend over ten miles.
From behind the clouds,
cascades of water come out to fly.
Streams never cease flowing over the rocks.
Breaking away from the glacier are the
crystal boat-like icebergs.
The green slope is joined by
the lake and valley.
A lone bird is flying high happily.
Slow and imperceptible changes take place
over thousands of years.
How can one accurately describe the scenery
at a particular time of the year?
The Best Chinese Ci Poems: A Bilingual Approach to Interpretation and Appreciation. Translated and Annotated by Edward C. Chang.
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