85. Xuanji

Lyrikzeitung & Poetry News

Here’s part of a very old classical Chinese poem, one from the Six Dynasties period that was written somewhere around or a little bit before 400 CE:

平始璇

蘇  璣

氏詩圖

The poem’s loop structure isn’t normal for old Chinese poems, which were usually written in blocks of text, with the ends of poetic lines indicated by the rhymes. The unfamiliar structure produces a question about where to start. If you begin in the upper right-hand corner and read down and to the left, as most Chinese poetry of the time was written, you get a rhyming couplet that you might translate like “The beginning of the chart of the star gauge; a poem made by Lady Su” (璇璣圖始詩平蘇氏). It’s a bit odd as a sentence, especially that “start” or “beginning” in the first line, as well as a strange word for “made.” If you read it going down the…

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