Daoist Ci Poetry

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Daoist Ci--poetry written to certain tunes with strict tonal patterns and rhyme schemes, in fixed numbers of lines and words--is a literary genre that expresses the idea of Daoist idealism of immortality and manifests the Daoist spirit.

The origin of Daoist Ci can be traced back to Daoist Songs ( 玄歌 Xuange ) and Tales About Deities' Transformation ( 變文 Bianwen ). "Daoist Songs" refer to songs of "Daoism". In terms of their form, Daoist songs belong to the words sung in Daoist ballads. The authors of Daoist songs usually recount stories in the first person in order to attract audiences. For example, in Ballad of the Conversion of the Barbarians collected in volume 10 of The Book of Laozi's Conversion of the Barbarians ( 老子化胡經 Laozi Huahu Jing ), "I" represent Laozi. It describes the immortal scenery of the place where the Venerable Sovereign cultivates Dao and recounts the story of "conversion of the barbarians to Buddhism and Daoism". It has the basic characteristics of narrative poetry.

The Book of Laozi's Conversion of the Barbarians also collects 18 pieces of Ci of the Venerable Sovereign's 16 Transformations. They belong to Daoist tales about deities' transformation. Tales about deities' transformation are a means of relating the transformation of deities. "Daoist tales about deities' transformation" refer to the style of relating the transformation of Daoist deities. In order to be adapted to the need of reciting and singing, this genre always adopts the form of "yunwen" (i.e. literary composition in rhyme). For example, Ci of the Venerable Sovereign's 16 Transformations is a piece of yunwen. The author arranges the plots according to the changes in orientations, and the shifting in places is based on the positions of the Eight Trigrams ( 八卦 Bagua ) in nine palaces of "change". The Eight Trigrams represent the eight directions, and two cycles of the Eight Trigrams produce 16 pieces of Ci of transformation.

Apart from Daoist songs and tales about deities' transformation, "Daoist immortal tunes" are also an important part of Daoist Ci. Its emergence is closely connected with the establishment and prevalence of Daoist rituals. In order to make rituals more grand, Daoists combine hymns and songs, and thus all kinds of words sung come into being. Volume 20 of Essential Secrets of the Most High ( 無上秘要 Wushang Miyao ) collects a few immortal songs. According to the stylistic rules and layout, the book gives brief explanations to them, pointing out the source and which immortal has ever sung them. For all the songs, there are five characters in a line, but the number of lines varies. They reflect the feature of early Daoist creation----"taking poetry as ci". What matches ci of "immortal songs" is the ci of Daoist tunes. The main styles are that of pacing the void and of hymns.

Ci of pacing the void is a form of Yuefu (i.e. official conservatory in the Han dynasty) literature. Essential Explanations to Yuefu Poetry ( 樂府古題要解 Yuefu Guti Yaojie ) by Wu Jing of the Tang dynasty points out that this kind of Ci relates and lauds the wonderful scene of immortal's ascending heaven. There have always been different views on the origin of Ci of pacing the void. According to the records of many classics, it should have existed in the period of The Three Kingdoms. Its singing rhythm generally accords with the positions of the nine palaces of the Eight Trigrams so that a tune of the alteration of Yin and Yang emerges. The recitation and singing of Ci of pacing the void should follow certain steps. It is required that the mind be concentrated and that recitation, signing, pacing methods, and stage properties be harmonized and unified.

Having the same origin with Ci of pacing the void, Ci of hymns after the Tang and Song dynasties is also of the form of words dubbed in music. When Daoist rituals of fasts and offerings were in vogue, Daoists, literary men and even emperors and government officials composed Daoist tunes widely, so all kinds of Ci of hymns emerged. Today's Ritual Hymns of the Three Grottos of the Golden Register Fast ( 金錄齋三洞贊詠儀 Jinluzhai Sandong Zanyong Yi ) and Ritual of Jade Tunes ( 玉音法事 Yuyin Fashi ) collect quite a few hymns. In terms of the form, though keeping the process of music initiation of Ci of pacing the void, hymns have some new characteristics. The most important thing is the emergence of long and short verse. Take Supreme Clarity Tunes ( 太清樂 Taiqing Yue ) collected in the upper volume of Ritual Hymns of the Three Grottos of the Golden Register Fast for example. Many sentences serving as a foil are added to the seven-character-per-line poem. Consequently, lines of different length are formed, and the poem has a peculiar style.

Owing to Daoist thought's permeation into Chinese literature, most Ci loved by literary men in history have the conception of immortality. According to Tunes Compiled by Imperial Order ( 欽定詞譜 Qinding Cipu ), Recalling Blowing Flute at the Phoenix Platform, Tune of Untying Ornaments, Gazing at the Gate to Immortality, and Presenting Immortal Tunes are all connected with Daoist immortal tales. The content of many Ci of the Song dynasty contains distinct Daoist meanings. Many great writers also created a certain number of immortal Ci. For example, Liu Yong and Huang Tingjian created some Ci of this subject. This kind of work combines immortal tales and classical allusions with the feelings of a spiritual journey. The use of puns produces a queer effect of thought-provoking mental association.