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Among the earliest and most influential poetic anthologies was
the Chuci (Songs of Chu), made up primarily of poems
ascribed to the semilegendary Qu Yuan (ca. 340-278 B.C.) and his
follower Song Yu (fourth century B.C.). The songs in this
collection are more lyrical and romantic and represent a different
tradition from the earlier Shijing. During the Han dynasty
(206 B.C.-A.D. 220), this form evolved into the fu, a poem
usually in rhymed verse except for introductory and concluding
passages that are in prose, often in the form of questions and
answers. The era of disunity that followed the Han period saw the
rise of romantic nature poetry heavily influenced by Taoism.
Classical poetry reached its zenith during the Tang dynasty
(A.D. 618-907). The early Tang period was best known for its
lushi (regulated verse), an eight-line poem with five or
seven words in each line; zi (verse following strict rules
of prosody); and jueju (truncated verse), a four-line poem
with five or seven words in each line. The two best-known poets of
the period were Li Bai (701-762) and Du Fu (712-770). Li Bai was
known for the romanticism of his poetry; Du Fu was seen as a
Confucian moralist with a strict sense of duty toward society.
Later Tang poets developed greater realism and social criticism
and refined the art of narration. One of the best known of the
later Tang poets was Bai Juyi (772-846), whose poems were an
inspired and critical comment on the society of his time.
Subsequent writers of classical poetry lived under the shadow
of their great Tang predecessors, and although there were many fine
poets in subsequent dynasties, none reached the level of this
period. As the classical style of poetry became more stultified, a
more flexible poetic medium, the ci, arrived on the scene.
The ci, a poetic form based on the tunes of popular songs,
some of Central Asian origin, was developed to its fullest by the
poets of the Song dynasty (960-1279).
As the ci gradually became more literary and artificial
after Song times, the san qu, a freer form, based on new
popular songs, developed. The use of san qu songs in drama
marked an important step in the development of vernacular
Data as of July 1987