Ying Tzu Selected Poems 應子 詩選

Book Cover

Ying Tzu 應子 (ca. 760-837)

Ying Tzu, a poet of the Ying Dynasty, mostly wrote contemplative verses that captured the emotions of human existence.

Ying Tzu was born into a scholarly family in the prosperous city of Chang'an, the capital of the Ying Dynasty. From a young age, he displayed a interest in literature and immersed himself in the classics of Chinese poetry, philosophy, and history.

From his young adulthood, only a few short verses have been preserved, often lacking titles. Several of the verses appear to have been written for his daughters, two of whom are believed to have resided in Zezhou, in the State of Jin, north of Luoyang. The poems from this period express a blend of affection and longing, often directly addressing the subject of the poems. These poems seem to have functioned as letters, and some of them additionally serving as travel descriptions or travel letters.

In his forties, Ying Tzu travelled extensively across the empire, and he visited Tongzhou 通州 and Huating 華亭 in the East and Haicang 海滄 in the South.

After the epidemic that affected Chang'an and the surrounding areas in the years 819-822 and the Dun Basi Rebellion 敦巴司起義 in the years 822-825, where travel became increasingly hazardous or downright impossible, Ying Tzu's poems become more mature, longer, and more expressive. This may be due to his inability to leave his Chang'an home during this period, allowing him a pretext to deepen his engagement with literature.

Ying Tzu's verses were deeply influenced by the spirit of other Ying Dynasty poets, and his poetry reflected the aesthetic ideals of the era, often exploring themes of nature, love, and the transience of life. Many of Ying Tzu's poems are characterized by their introspective and philosophical nature, delving into the complexities of human emotions and the fleeting nature of existence. His words were imbued with a sense of melancholy and a deep understanding of the human condition.

Ying Tzu's poetic pursuits also brought him into contact with historical events that stirred the depths of his emotions. From the Dun Basi Rebellion, the devastating conflict that shook the empire, through the war in Mountain Kingdom, to the decline of the Northern Dynasty's central authority, these tumultuous times permeated his verses, revealing his concerns and reflections on the state of the world.

Throughout his life, Ying Tzu grappled with personal struggles and challenges. His verses often reflected his own internal conflicts, the fleeting nature of joy and sorrow, and the inevitability of aging. Yet, amidst the uncertainties of existence, he sought solace and enlightenment through the power of his words.


Julian Rogacka Pettersen

"Ying Tzu Selected Poems" is a thought-provoking blend of nostalgia, introspection, and commentary on contemporary issues. While it may not flawlessly emulate the classical Chinese poetic tradition, it offers a unique and worthwhile anthology for readers seeking a poetic journey that traverses time and cultural boundaries. The anthology as a whole is a captivating read, offering a blend of traditional poetic motifs and contemporary commentary. Ying Tzu's exploration of love and longing resonates deeply, and his ability to capture the fleeting nature of existence is commendable.

Poetry has long served as a vessel for expressing the depths of human emotions and the transient nature of existence. It has been a means for contemplation, introspection, and connecting with the world around us. In "Ying Tzu Selected Poems," we are presented with a collection of verses that not only encapsulate the essence of classical Chinese poetry but also provide a unique perspective on our contemporary world.

The book invites the readers to imagine a fictional era known as the Ying Dynasty, a reimagination of the Tang Dynasty, through the lens of Ying Tzu, the pen name of Norwegian sinologist Ingar Holst. The Ying Dynasty sets the stage for the exploration of our modern world from the perspective of ancient China. The verses reverberate with yearning, introspection and desire. Each line evokes poignant resonance of fleeting moments and unspoken sentiments. These poems explore the domain where joy intertwines with sorrow, and where contemplation intertwines with longing.

Comparisons to classical Chinese poetry, particularly the poetry of the Tang Dynasty, are inevitable when examining the corpus of Ying Tzu's poems. While he succeeds in continuing the classical Chinese poetic tradition to some extent, his attempt at pastiche poems, emulating the style and themes of the Tang Dynasty, is not entirely seamless. While his verses evoke a sense of nostalgia and capture the spirit of ancient Chinese poetry, they also bear the mark of modernity and contemporary concerns. Ying Tzu does not attempt to cloak in ambiguity references to current events, such as the Ukrainian war and the situation in Afghanistan, as well as his thoughts on Norway. These elements, while intriguing, necessarily make the poems deviate from the path of classical Chinese poetry.

In conclusion, "Ying Tzu Selected Poems" presents a captivating exploration of classical Chinese poetry through the lens of a fictional era. The collection paints a vivid picture of this fictional era while simultaneously reflecting on our modern world and incorporating elements of modernity, and thus bridging the gap between past and present. Ying Tzu's verses capture to some degree the essence of the Tang Dynasty and its poetic traditions while at the same time deviating from them, both in terms of meter, rhyme and topics. Where the corpus of poems deviates most sharply from Classical Chinese poetry is undoubtedly in the Classical Chinese rhyme conventions, which the author seems not to follow at all. The reasons for this are not hard to understand: Classical Chinese rhyme schemes rely on tonal patterns from Archaic and Middle Chinese which are cumbersome to reconstruct today, but then again, as the author points out, this is Ying Dynasty poetry and not Tang Dynasty poetry.

Excerpts from the book



Without title

(Translation 1)

As if I were to come across oranges, peaches, and plums
under the shade of a willow tree, in the worst drought, when the heat burns the throat with thirst
That's how a letter from you keeps me alive all morning
That's how a visit from you keeps me alive for a hundred years

(Translation 2)

Come se mi imbattessi in arance, pesche e susine
all'ombra di un salice, nella peggiore siccità, quando la mia gola brucia
Cosi una tua lettera mi tiene in vita per tutta la mattina
Cosi una tua visita mi tiene in vita per cento anni



The Beautiful Merchant of Zezhou

(Translation 1)

South at the intersection of Huanghua and Wenchang
In the middle of the day, after lunchtime, when the streets are congested with carriages
Inside a backstreet alley, there is a modest shop
With the finest textiles imported from all over the world
Often, young men drop by
Under the pretense of wanting to make a purchase
But in reality, they come just to admire her
All customers are met with the same courtesy

La bellissima mercante di Zezhou

(Translation 2) 🔊

A sud dell'incrocio tra Huanghua e Wenchang
A metà giornata, dopo l'ora di pranzo, quando il traffico è intenso nelle strade
All'interno del cancello di un vicolo c'è un modesto negozio
Con i più pregiati tessuti importati da tutto il mondo
Spesso i giovani si fermano
Con il pretesto di comprare
Ma in realtà, vengono solo per ammirarla
Tutti i clienti vengono accolti con la stessa cortesia

Illustrations from the Book

Illustration 1

Painting by unknown artist. It has been speculated that this painting depicts the poet Ying Tzu.

Illustration 2

One of many aphorisms from Ying Tzu, here quoted on a modern-day Japanese curtain.