The origin and development of ci poetry in China, across the periods of 950 to 1100, can be traced lucidly in the works of Su Shi and Li Yu. Some of the most notable literary pieces that illustrate this phenomenon are two poems by these artists; “Woodland Flowers lose their Vernal Color,” and “Immortal by the River.” Li Yu and Sushi authored these poems respectively. The trends of the movement might be seen in the changing aspect of thematic construction of the poems and the symbolism employed. It is also possible to trace some marked transformation in the form of the poems with time. The ci poetry has been linked to the adoption of the song forms of Asia into poetry. Their forms and substances have characteristically been informed by the foreign cultural influences from the inner parts of Asia into the Chinese cultural life.
The artistic reactions from these cultural contacts have been regarded as the driving forces that conditioned the transformation of Chinese art into new forms and representation. These poems have employed images that situate them within some of the favorite themes that were adopted by the early Chinese poets including mysticism, nature, and chaos. The images used in these poems range from topography to domestic things. This means that these poems mostly sought to capture reality in both cosmic and romantic form. The success of this attempt can be observed in the particularly moving evocation of nature’s superiority and majesty as observed in Su shi’s poem. Li Yu’s poem, on the other hand, situates its thematic content within the images of vegetation and the beauty of fading flowers. For instance, this can be seen in the continued use of natural elements as images; “In the deep night, with the wind still, the sea calm,” (Shi, 133), in the ninth line of the poem. These gives a string hint to the desire by the poet to challenge conventions using symbolism. The two poems can be viewed in the sense in which they represent the same reality in two different ways.
Thematically, the early Chinese poets in the league of Su Shi and Li Yu worked towards the establishment forms of arts that could open up their closed society towards alternative forms of representation. To this extent, the ci forms have sometimes been regarded as a form of silent rebellion of artists who chose to use their skill for the transformation of a society locked up in restrictive and suppressive structures. In the poem, the “Woodland Flowers Lose their Vernal Color,” Li Yu appears to subvert traditional symbolism to capture a different portrayal of reality. The poet extends his creative perspective beyond the conventions of art as portrayed in the society towards a decidedly fresh analysis of the society.
In some respect, the symbolic meaning of flowers losing color might be deemed to represent a certain vulnerability of the social norms and structure within the context of transformation (Yu, 112). The title of this poem is striking in the sense which it appears to celebrate the possibility of the establishment of a new world order. The old beauty leaves the scene poignantly to cede ground for the possibility of other kinds of reality. In terms of historical movement, this poem appears to morph into the character element of Li Yu, the artists, who sought to live his rebellious element into the new form of artistic representation. The forms of art that are classified under the ci form have one striking resemblance in terms of verse. All of them have a tendency towards free and unbalanced verse forms. These verse forms are deemed to represent a desire by the artists to force the borrowed forms of art into a new shape of artistic representation that reflected in the traditional art forms. The unbalanced forms of verse were in line with Chinese songs, which the ci poetry, sought to give alternative representation.
Su Shi’s poem “The Immortal River” captures a certain cultural identity that emerged in China between the periods of 950 and 1100. This identity carried string indications of cultural supremacy that had the effect of created a certain form of bulwark against the incipience of foreign systems into the Chinese cultural life. Some of the characteristics of this art were the use of local images to illustrate the different kinds of meaning within the works of poetry (Shi, 98). In this poem, the River represents both the triumph of Chinese topography and the continuum of national culture, which sought to elevate culture to a level of representation that was in line with what appeared to a be a resurgence of nationalism.
However, critics have argued that this form of art was apologetic to the authoritarianism that was imposed on the Chinese people by their governors. If Sushi’s poem is to be seen as representing the t\old ideal, the Li Yu’s poetic works might be regarded as some forms of response to the positions adopted by Sushi in the attempt to capture the realities of Chinese social life (Shi, 133). The most noticeable similarity between these two poems is that they tend to react to the external realities of the objective world. To this extent the power of the images employed also appear to shift in line with the expectations of the people. Although the poets seem anchor their opinions around the same themes and perspectives, Sushi treads the traditional path of self-preservation while Li Yu adopts the path of poetic liberalism and a search for the fresh grounds of expression.
The movement of time between the years 950 to 100 marked the different reactions that were meshed within the perspective of geopolitical realities that inevitably filtered into the existing works of art. Similarly, it was around the same time that exploration activities and the opening up of new trading zones were increasingly shaping up in Asia. The result of these influences was the incorporation into the elements of style a certain form of freedom that represented the transformation of art into a particularly new form of cultural expressionism. The artists who emerged to contribute to the ci form movement were determined to curve some impact out of these transformations. This contribution was on two levels. The first form of influence was the active pursuit of the values espoused as represented within the context of the emerging realities. On the second level, another category of artists sought to create a different response that both cautious and reactionary.
Li Yu’s poem “Woodland Flowers lose their Vernal Color” might be seen in the light of change and transformation. It resonates with as an aspect of cultural freedom. There seems to be a movement of the center of social and cultural freedoms from the prohibitive restrictions imposed by the state to other representations. The poems of ci forms have tended the employ the of domestic images that represent a docile and idyllic village life full of beautiful young girls, loving mothers and a provident mother nature. There was the idealistic representation of the society akin to what the Elizabethan and Romantic poets in England had attempted many centuries later. In fact, some critics have argued that the portrayal of the society in the Chinese early poetry, might have anticipated the emergence of the Romantic period in England. The points of convergence were the exuberance romanticizing of the village life, as opposed to the chaos of toil and violence.
In the Chinese ci form, there is an obvious attempt to align the poems with the cosmic order and realities. Towards the first half of 1100, there was the evident movement of the imagery in these poems towards the celebration of love and family life as the most ideal discourses in the life of man. The images employed were in the form of pillows, the bedroom, and other marital objects. This marked the most sublime stage of romantic celebration within the context of the ci forms of poetry. Critics have developed several arguments to challenge the possibilities that the Chinese ci form of poetry might have had significant contribution to the development of European romantic discourses. Those who have argued against this notion have anchored their notions in the possibility of the early European explorers transporting forms of European drama influences to their homeland.
The opening up of Asia as a mystical destination region by Marco Polo has been cited as part of the reasons to believe that there might have occurred some cultural exchanges, as a result. It might therefore, be argued that the images in Li Yu’s poem “Woodland Flowers lose their Vernal Color” and Sushi’s “Immortal by the River” as a celebration of the idyllic existence that was celebrated in Chinese art. This form of poetry was rich in the sense in which it covered historical allusions as well as cultural systems. The images that have been used in both poems are potent to the extent in which they react to the realities that played out in the Chinese society. These realities are the ones that feed into the fundamental themes that are represented in the substance of these poems. Therefore, it might be argued that the tow poems discussed here were largely a successful portrayal of the form and substance of the co form of poetry in thematic perspective and historical transformation.