The Beauty of Classical Chinese Poetry | Review of “A Thousand Peaks: Poems from China” by Siyu Liu and Orel Protopopescu (2002) Pacific View Press


An item the other day got my attention at a used book sale. While it was only a $1 and it was meant for children, I was extremely enlightened by A Thousand Peaks: Poems from China by Siyu Liu and Orel Protopopescu. And it deserves a few words of mention here.

Introduction (Page 5)

In China, Poetry began over five thousand years ago. The first poems were songs. At festivals and other important events, people composed new lyrics to go with familiar tunes. They sang their thoughts and feelings to each other. Court musicians sand during official government meeting to help politicians negotiate. Imagine songwriters sing in Congress today! The first know collection of the ancient poems, the Book of Songs, was written on bamboo sticks around 600 B.C.E.

This book was a pleasure for me to look through. Not only does it offer excerpts of Classical Chinese poetry but gives a history lesson into each era. And it is colourfully illustrated with wonderful prints.

Pity theFarmer (Page 10)

In the noonday sun, he hoes his grain,

his sweat watering the plants like rain.

Who knows, maybe the food on your plate

comes, every grain, from his toil and strain?

By Li Shen (Tang dynasty)

For centuries, this poem has been used to teach Chinese children to appreciate other people’s work and not waste food.

Legend says Li was once captured by bandits. The chief, who knew him by name, called for a sample of his art on the spot. Li composed a poem saying there was no reason to fear highwaymen, as more than half the world contained more dangerous men. He promptly won his release.

Each section also includes a literal translation of the poem so one can appreciate certain aspects of how the poem would sound in it’s original form.

pity farmer

hoe grain sun at noon

sweat drop grain below earth

who know plate middle meal

grain grain all hard labor

(The last line in Chinese repeats the word grain to emphasize its value. This doubling, used for emphasis and to create a balanced sound, is a common feature of Chinese poetry.)

Snapshot of Page 10 "Pity the Farmer"
Snapshot of Page 10 “Pity the Farmer”

A Thousand Peaks: Poems from China by Siyu Liu and Orel Protopopescu may have been a dollar find for me but it was worth triple it’s weight in gold. An enlightening read for whomever reads it- young or old.

Snapshot of Page 9 illustration. Done by Siyu Liu.
Snapshot of Page 9 illustration. Done by Siyu Liu.

Home page for Orel Protopopescu

Link to Pacific View Press’ website

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