Summary of J.D. Frodsham
“The Origins of Nature Poetry” Asia Major: A British Journal of Far Eastern Studies
(Publisher: Percy Lund, Humphries & Company, Limited, 1960)
This article, “The Origins of Nature Poetry,” by J.D. Frodsham published in the Asia Major Journal in 1960, discusses the origins of ancient Chinese poetry as related to themes of nature, especially its connection to early Taosim. Nature poetry, or shanshuishi山水試, had major developments during the beginning of the Song dynasty. During this time, older poetry such as that from the Shijing 試經was instead favored for this new form of nature poetry, which had its roots in Taoism.
After the restoration of the Qin Dynasty, Taoism had a major influence on poetry. With their knowledge gained from several books of Taoist thought, poets of this era seemed to write endless poems concerning these ideas and how they connect to nature. These ideas were especially popular with scholars that lived south of the Yangtze River. Many of the poets of this time had the same ideas in their poems although some used more ornate language than others. This revolution in taste of ancient poets brought in a new era of nature poetry. The basic characteristics of nature poetry however already existed in the corpus of the earlier Xuanyan 玄言 Taoist verse.
There were basically two schools of reaction against the prevailing conditions of Taoism. The first school tried to destroy Confucian philosophy and create a government based on Taoist principles. The second school stressed the anarchical views of Taoism. These both played a heavy influence on the nature poetry of the time. The first 50 years of nature poetry is hard to study because many of these early nature poems have been lost, but we can assume that later poets had access to these early poems and drew on them for inspiration. Because of this, many scholars have been mistaken concerning the origins of the sudden appearance of nature poetry in the 5th century A.D.
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