汉乐府 Yuefu Songs of the Han Dynasty
Yuefu originally referred to the musical bureau in the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD) in charge of collection of folk ballads and poems created by literati, which would then be set to music. Later, poems and folk ballads collected and compiled by the Yuefu were given this generic name. Folk songsa form the best part of the Yuefu songs of the Han Dynasty.
Time to gather lotus in the Yangtze Valley, / As lotus leaves are fair and lusty. / Fish frolic amidst the lotus leaves. / Fish frolic to the east of the lotus leaves, / Fish frolic to the west of the lotus leaves, / Fish frolic to the south of the lotus leaves, / Fish frolic to the north of the lotus leaves.
This folk song entitled Jiangnan (south of the Yangtze River) depicts the joyous mood of local people gathering lotus.
Most of the Yuefu songs of the Han Dynasty are narrative poems, which truthfully reflected people's feelings. Some mirror the poverty-stricken life of laboring people; some expose the misery caused by war; some express opposition to feudal marriage customs and express a wish for true love; some reveal the decadent life of noblemen and the seedy side of society.
The best known is The Bride of Jiao Zhongqing (Kong Que Dong Nan Fei), which is also the earliest long narrative poem in Chinese history. It gives a vivid account of a tragedy of two lovers in a feudal family.
Southeast the lovelorn peacock flies. Alack, / At every mile she falters and looks back! / At thirteen years Lanzhi learned how to weave; / At fourteen years she could embroider, sew; / At fifteen music on her lute she made; / At sixteen knew the classics, prose and verse....
Liu Lanzhi, a smart, pretty and kind-hearted girl, and her husband Jiao Zhongqing, loved each other deeply, but Jiao's mother was so cruel that she forced them to separate. As a result, both Jiao and Liu committed suicide and turned into a pair of lovebirds. "They cross their bills and sing to one another / Their soft endearments all night long till dawn.?"The tragedy condemned the feudal ethics and evil clan rule, and expressed the wishes of the young for free marriage.
The pursuit of faithful reflection of social reality by Yuefu songs of the Han Dynasty and the artistic merits they achieved had great impact on the development of poetry in later generations.