“National Poetry Month is a month-long celebration of the art of poetry and American poets. ”
It immediately reminds me of a quirky Chinese poem, which may be of interest to you.
It is called ‘The Lion-Eating Poet in the Stone Den‘ (施氏食狮史), written by an accomplished Chinese linguist, Zhao (or Chao) Yuanren (赵元任, 1892-1982). The poem uses just over 90 characters. However, all of them have only one sound — shi, in different tones.
You may know that Chinese is a tonal language, but this poem has taken it to an extreme.
Here is a mystery. In the English world, we believe that poems are to be performed, to be read out loud, to add emotions, and by doing so, you enjoy them more.
However, this Chinese poem has overturned this rule. This poem is simply impossible to perform like the way you perform Shakespeare. This poem will only make sense if you are able to read the Chinese characters.
That’s why learning Chinese characters is important. If you don’t recognise Chinese characters, or that Chinese characters don’t recognise you, you’ll be in trouble in China, even though you can speak the language fluently.
My lecturer in London used to refer to fluent speakers of Chinese who can’t read the characters as fluent illiterate.
The original poem:
- 《施氏食狮史》 by Zhao Yuanren (赵元任)
- The romanised version:
- « Shī Shì shí shī shǐ »
- Shíshì shīshì Shī Shì, shì shī, shì shí shí shī.
- Shì shíshí shì shì shì shī.
- Shí shí, shì shí shī shì shì.
- Shì shí, shì Shī Shì shì shì.
- Shì shì shì shí shī, shì shǐ shì, shǐ shì shí shī shìshì.
- Shì shí shì shí shī shī, shì shíshì.
- Shíshì shī, Shì shǐ shì shì shíshì.
- Shíshì shì, Shì shǐ shì shí shì shí shī.
- Shí shí, shǐ shí shì shí shī shī, shí shí shí shī shī.
- Shì shì shì shì.
Meaning in English: (Source: Wikipedia)
« Lion-Eating Poet in the Stone Den »
- In a stone den was a poet called Shi, who was a lion addict, and had resolved to eat ten lions.
- He often went to the market to look for lions.
- At ten o’clock, ten lions had just arrived at the market.
- At that time, Shi had just arrived at the market.
- He saw those ten lions, and using his trusty arrows, caused the ten lions to die.
- He brought the corpses of the ten lions to the stone den.
- The stone den was damp. He asked his servants to wipe it.
- After the stone den was wiped, he tried to eat those ten lions.
- When he ate, he realized that these ten lions were in fact ten stone lion corpses.
- Try to explain this matter.