The Shijing
(The Book of Songs)
Before Sappho, before Pindar, before any of the Western lyric
poets, there was the
Shijing -- also known as the Book of Songs.  
Some of the works here may date back to 1000 B.C., and the
entire collection of 305 poems constitutes one of the five classics,
that ancient corpus considered as the foundation of
Confucianism.  These works are unfairly neglected in the West,
but should be required reading as the starting point of lyric
poetry.  But they also bear many comparisons with folk songs,
and as such are important sources for those who hope to explore
the first stirrings of world music.  Finally, the historical and
mythological elements in the poems give them further value in
documenting cultural practices and belief systems.  In my own
studies of the social history of music, I have turned to these lyrics
again and again.  Yet the sheer beauty of the poetry allows us to
admire these venerable works on their own merits.  


Read about Arthur Waley, celebrated translator of the Shijing.

Background on the Shijing from
China Knowledge, an online guide
to China studies

Arthur Waley never
visited the Far East
-- he honed his skills
in Chinese and
Japanese while
working at the British
Museum --  but his
translations of a
range of classic
Asian text continue
to be cherished by
readers long after
his death in 1966.   
Waley's rendering of
The Book of Song is
still unsurpassed.