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This review is taken from PN Review 67, Volume 15 Number 5, May - June 1989.

The Songs of the South, an anthology of ancient Chinese poems by Qu Yuan and other poets, translated with an introduction and notes by David Hawkes (Penguin Books) £4.95
New Songs from a Jade Terrace, an anthology of early Chinese love poetry, translated with an introduction and notes by Anne Birrell, with a critical essay by J.H. Prynne (Penguin Books) £4.95
The Chu ci (Ch'u Tzu in the old orthography) is, with 'The Book of Songs' (Shih Ching or, in the new style, Shi jing), the root of Chinese poetry, and the re-publication of this translation in an inexpensive edition is very welcome. The anthology was established in its final form in the second century AD, in the reign of the Later Han emperor Shun Di, by Wang Yi, who was a librarian in the Imperial Library at Luoyang, and a poetaster. The earliest - and best - poems mostly date back to the late fourth and early third centuries BC (though there are still serious questions about dating), and they were composed in the southern state of Chu (a literal rendering of the title of the anthology would be 'Words of Chu'), which at the height of its power took in, roughly, the present central Chinese provinces of Jiangsu, Anhui and Hubei, and parts of Hunan, Shaanxi, Henan and one or two other provinces. Chu was thus centred on the Yangtse basin, and it is this 'riverine and lacustrine landscape' that is evoked in many of the songs.

The songs may be divided into three categories: shamanistic invocations and catechisms; pre-Han poems that use the conventions of earlier poetry, particularly the description of a shamanistic flight through the heavens, for ends that are more strictly literary; later poems that draw on the tradition established by Qu Yuan and his epigones. In addition, there are two brief prose pieces concerning ...


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