Daoist Poetry

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Daoist poetry refers to the poetry that reflects Daoist life, conveys ideals of immortality, or describes unworldly feelings through images of Daoist immortals.

Daoist poetry has a very early origin

The clue of Daoist poetry can be vaguely seen in ''Book of Supreme Peace'' ( 太平經 Taiping Jing ) of the Eastern Han dynasty. Volume 38 of the book records a 93-word Masters' Writs on Tablets ( 師策文 Shice Wen ), which is rhymed as the embryonic form of seven-character-per-line poems. A contemporary book, ''The Three Ways Unified and Normalized of the Book of Changes'' ( 周易參同契 Zhouyi Cantongqi ), often adopts the style of four-character-per-line and five-character-per-line poetry and Sao-styled rhapsody. Though it adopts miscellaneous styles, the feature of discussing the refinement of elixirs by means of poetry is evident. Since the Eastern Han dynasty, the Daoist community became stronger and stronger, and correspondingly, Daoist poetry increased and became more and more mature. During the Wei-Jin dynasties and the Southern and Northern Dynasties, not only poetry of alchemy and incantations spread secretly in Daoist circles, but also poetry of roaming immortals was prevalent in society.

Poetry of alchemy refers to poetry whose subject is alchemy

Alchemy can be divided into outer alchemy and inner alchemy; hence poetry of alchemy can be so distinguished. Some poems are mainly about inner alchemy, some about outer alchemy, and some about both. For example, a 504-word ballad recorded in the first volume of Supreme Clarity Book of Golden Liquids and Divine Elixirs ( 太清金液神丹經 Taiqing Jinye Shendan Jing ) suggests the principle and functions of alchemy in the style of seven-character-per-line and through literary means of symbolism. The images are rather obscure, but the similes and symbols add to the vividness of the ballad.

Potery about Charms

When the poetry of alchemy was secretly transmitted, Daoists also paid attention to the creation of poetic incantations. Incantations were formerly prayer words said have been revealed during the era of the Yellow Emperor. When Daoism emerged, incantations became a way for Daoists to summon spirits, dispel ghosts, cure diseases, and seek Dao, and in the Wei and Jin dynasties, incantations further developed. There are prose-styled and poetry-styled incantations, but most are the latter. The famous ones include Incantations of Perfect Writs ( 真文咒 Zhenwen Zhou ), Incantations of the Three August Ones ( 三皇咒 Sanhuang Zhou ), and Divine Incantations of the Pervasive Abyss ( 洞淵神咒 Dongyuan Shenzhou ). Poetry of incantations not only carefully imitates natural sounds and rhythms, but also manifests clear love and hatred. Simultaneously, it pays attention to the use of classical allusions and the stress of the atmosphere, and it even contains descriptions of certain scenes.

Poetry of Roaming Immortals

Besides poetry of alchemy and incantations, poetry of roaming immortals in the Wei, Jin, and the Southern and Northern Dynasties also had a hold in society. This kind of poetry is on the roaming of immortals. Its origin can be traced back to The Eulogies of the Chu ( 楚辭 Chuci ) in the period of The Three Kingdoms, such as Far-Off Journey ( 遠遊 Yuanyou ) by Qu Yuan, which does not lack descriptions of immortals' roaming and is of strong romantic flavor. Poetry of roaming immortals emerged naturally against the background of the prosperity of Daoism. Most of the poems are in the style of five characters in a line but various numbers of lines. Poetry concerning roaming immortals was first became a literary genre in the Wenxuan by Xiao Tong of the Liang dynasty. It can be classified into Daoists' poetry of roaming immortals and literati poetry of roaming immortals according to the poets' status. Both of them manifest the romantic flavor of "flying to heaven and roaming about the eight extremes," fantastic imagination, and the difference is that poetry of roaming immortals by Daoists is always a combination of the worship of Dao along with the roaming of immortals.

Tang and Song dynasties

After the Tang and Song dynasties, poetry reflecting Daoist life and seeking of immortality became increasingly prosperous. On the one hand, Daoists were enthusiastic in composing poems. For example, celebrated Daoists Lu Dongbin and Shi Jianwu expressed their view of Daoist guidelines and the belief in immortality in combination with description of famous scenic spots, and reveal the profound philosophy of Daoist doctrines through depiction of ways of cultivating the Dao. On the other hand, having been influenced by the Daoism or having observed and experienced Daoist life, many literary men created some poems of this subject. Both poets Wang Xu in the last years of the Sui and the first years of the Tang and Meng Haoran and Li Bai in the flourishing age of the Tang, both Yang Yi and Zhang Yong, representatives of the Xikun school in the Northern Song dynasty, and poet Yang Wanli of the Southern Song dynasty, wrote poems on Daoist affairs, roaming immortals and Daoism that spread in the country. Among these poets, some have ideas basically in correspondence with the Daoist ideal of immortality, and some always displayed an artistic conception of seeking Daoist immortality in their creation, though they were not piously converted to Daoism. With peculiar content and rich artistic means, Daoist poetry made an indelible contribution in the Chinese history of literature.