Features of Imagery in Ancient Chinese Poetry
Poetry is a literary genre that evokes a concentrated imagination awareness of experience or a specific emotion response through language chosen and arranged for its meaning, sound and rhythm. Poetry represents writing in its most compendious and condensed form, together with a quality of musicality to create unparalleled artistic charm.
Poetry is the song of man’s heart and soul, the picture of man’s senses and imagination. According to ancient Chinese poetics, poets will not express their emotional experiences directly. Instead, they fuse their feelings into the external objects to be described. These objects to be described are never selected at random, but are the manifestation of the poets’ shrewd power of observation and unique artistic view. When the object selected by the poets are used in a poem, they are no longer ordinary images of objects but meaningful imageries. Therefore in the present thesis, the concept Yixiang in ancient Chinese aesthetics should be translated as imagery not image. Image refers to concrete physical object, whereas imagery here refers to the fusion of poets’ subjective feelings with objective scenes.
Imagery is playing a more and more important role in the development of poems, especially in ancient Chinese poetry. Imagery, which contains poet’s emotion and connotation, is a key factor in the creation and appreciation of ACP. A poetry without imagery is meaningless; or we can say that no imagery, no poetry.
Definition of Imagery
Imagery plays an important role in the composition and appreciation of poetry. Imagery or Yixiang in Chinese literary bears more connotation than that of Imagism in western literary. The former one puts emphasis on Yi, which refers to the poets’ thoughts and subjective feelings, whereas the latter emphasizes particularly on Xiang, which is the objective means of expression. Instead of simply seeking objective correlatives of emotions in concrete objects, Chinese poets call for a higher level of poetic world in creating Yixiang — a fusion of objectivity subjectivity, scene and emotion, nature and soul.
Classification of Imagery in ACP
Imagery in poetry can be classified in different ways. Yuan Xingpei gives us a comprehensive category of imagery, especially referring to that of Chinese poetry:
1) Imagery of the natural world, such as celestial bodies, climate, geographic conditions, animals and plants;
2) Imagery of social life, such as war, travel, fishing, hunting, marriage and death;
3) Imagery of humans, such as their bodies, organs, senses and psychological movements;
4) Imagery of human society, such as buildings, costumes, utensils, cities;
5) Imagery of supernatural beings, such as the immortals, deities, souls, demons.
Besides, imagery still has other two commonly used classifications. According to human senses, namely senses of sight, hearing, smell, touch and taste, imagery in poems can be categorized under five types: visual imagery, auditory imagery, tactile imagery, gustatory imagery and olfactory imagery. From the angle of poets’ intent, Zhu Hui (1996:20-23) divides imagery into five types: descriptive imagery, metaphorical imagery, symbolic imagery, synaesthetic imagery and abstract imagery. The following is a detailed analysis of these two kinds of classification.
Combination of Imagery
ACP is noted for their compact and condensed imageries. Imagery is used to arouse a particular sentiment of the readers. Sometimes there is only one imagery in a poem, which is independent and integrated. In Wang Wei’s famous poem Love Seeds, the poet uses only one imagery — “red berries” to express love-sickness:
Red berries grow in southern land,
In spring they overload the tree,
Gather them till full in your hand,
They would revive fond memories.
—— Xu Yuanchong
But in most cases, a poem is composed of several imageries. In ACP, the poet always combine two or more than two imageries to arouse emotional associations and enrich their poetic context. There are three common ways for the combination of imageries: juxtaposition, superposition and assemblage.