Gushi (poetry)

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Shi -bigseal.svg
Large seal character for shi ("poetry")
Traditional Chinese 古詩
Simplified Chinese 古诗
Hanyu Pinyin gǔshī
Wade–Giles ku-shih

Gushi (simplified Chinese :古诗; traditional Chinese :古詩; pinyin :gǔshī; Wade–Giles :ku-shih) is one of the main poetry forms defined in Classical Chinese poetry, literally meaning "old (or ancient) poetry" or "old (or ancient) style poetry": gushi is a technical term for certain historically exemplary poems, together with later poetry composed in this formal style.


Poetic form

The normal formal style is for uniform line lengths of 5 or 7 syllables (or characters), with lines in syntactically-paired couplets. Parallelism emphasizing thesis or antithesis is frequently found but is not an obligatory feature. Rhymes generally occur at the ends of couplets, the actual rhyme sound sometimes changing through the course of the poem. Caesura usually occurs as a major feature before the last 3 syllables in any line, with the 7 syllable lines also often having a minor caesura in between the first two pairs of syllables. The final 3 syllables in a line are often varied syntactically by whether the first and second of these are more closely linked by the syntax or whether the second and third are more syntactically connected: a feature of the gushi form which provides added poetic interest and variety. [1]


Gushi poems first really began to emerge as a poetic form in the second century CE. [2] In its subsequent history, a revival during the Tang dynasty produced an additional period of flourishing for this form of poetry.

Nineteen Old Poems

Gushi began their historical prominence with the Nineteen Old Poems (literally, "Nineteen Gushi"), which seem to date to the Han Dynasty, from about this time period. [3] These nineteen poems are generally characterized as rhymed verse, in the five-character line, unregulated style.

Tang dynasty revival

The gushi style experienced a great revival during the Tang Dynasty, during which one of the poets particularly associated with masterful use of this style was Li Bai. In the Tang Dynasty, with the development of the new style poetry (jintishi), also known as regulated verse, the term gushi was applied to poetry which did not necessarily keep under restriction the length of the poem nor to fulfill requirements for verbal or tonal parallelisms: in the freer gushi form of verse, often various rules were pointedly violated, such as by the use of unusual rhyme schemes or conspicuous avoidance of verbal parallelism. [4]

See also

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Classical Chinese poetry genres

Classical Chinese poetry genres are those genres which typify the traditional Chinese poems written in Classical Chinese. Some of these genres are attested to as early as the publication of the Classic of Poetry, dating from a traditionally, and roughly, estimated time of around 10th–7th century BCE, in what is now China, but at that time was composed of various independent states. The term "genres" refers to various aspects, such as to topic, theme, and subject matter, what similes or metaphors were considered appropriate or how they would be interpreted, and other considerations such as vocabulary and style. These genres were generally, but not always independent of the Classical Chinese poetry forms. Many or most of these forms and genres were developed by the Tang Dynasty, and the use and development of Classical Chinese poetry genres actively continued up until the May Fourth Movement, in 1919, and still continues even today in the 21st century.

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Han poetry

Han poetry as a style of poetry resulted in significant poems which are still preserved today, and which have their origin associated with the Han dynasty era of China, 206 BC – 220 AD, including the Wang Mang interregnum. The final years at the end of the Han era often receive special handling for purposes of literary analysis because, among other things, the poetry and culture of this period is less than typical of the Han period, and has important characteristics of its own, or it shares literary aspects with the subsequent Three Kingdoms period. This poetry reflects one of the poetry world's more important flowerings, as well as being a special period in Classical Chinese poetry, particularly in regard to the development of the quasipoetic fu; the activities of the Music Bureau in connection with the collection of popular ballads and the resultant development of what would eventually become known as the yuefu, or as the rhapsodic formal style; and, finally, towards the end of the Han Dynasty, the development of a new style of shi poetry, as the later development of the yuehfu into regular, fixed-line length forms makes it difficult to distinguish in form from the shi form of poetic verse, and at what point specific poems are classified as one or the other is somewhat arbitrary. Another important poetic contribution from the Han era is the compilation of the Chuci anthology, which contains some of the oldest and most important poetic verses to be preserved from ancient China, as well as the transmission of the Shijing anthology.

Regulated verse – also known as Jintishi – is a development within Classical Chinese poetry of the shi main formal type. Regulated verse is one of the most important of all Classical Chinese poetry types. Although often regarded as a Tang Dynasty innovation, the origin of regulated verse within the Classical Chinese poetic tradition is associated with Shen Yue (441–513), based on his "four tones and eight defects" (四聲八病) theory regarding tonality. There are three types of regulated verse: the eight-lined lüshi, the four-lined jueju, and the linked couplets of indeterminate length pailu. All regulated verse forms are rhymed on the even lines, with one rhyme being used throughout the poem. Also, and definitionally, the tonal profile of the poem is controlled. Furthermore, semantic and tonal parallelism is generally required of certain interior couplets. During the Tang Dynasty, the "Shen-Song" team of Shen Quanqi and Song Zhiwen greatly contributed to the development of this Classical Chinese verse form.

Lüshi refers to a specific form of Classical Chinese poetry verse form. One of the most important poetry forms of classical Chinese poetry, the lüshi refers to an eight-line regulated verse form with lines made up of five, six, or seven characters; thus:



  1. Frankel, 213
  2. Frankel, 213
  3. Watson, 19
  4. Watson, 112