Pentasyllabic Shi poetry : the “Nineteen Old Poems”

Document Type

Book chapter

Source Publication

How to read Chinese poetry: A guided anthology

Publication Date


First Page


Last Page



Columbia University Press


The "Nineteen Old Poems" introduces new themes and transforms old ones in ways that reflect the rising self-consciousness of the literati. Whether speaking directly or through a female persona, the anonymous poets consistently brooded over their inner experience and searched for the meaning of their lives on an abstract philosophical level unseen in earlier shi poetry. The new syntactic and structural features of this collection also yield ample internal evidence of self-reflective literati writing instead of singers performing or others orally communicating the poems. In view of such profound thematic and formal changes, modern critics generally agree that this collectin marks an important transition from a performative to a self-reflective tradition in the evolution of pentasyllabic shi poetry. For this reason, it is often hailed as a fountainhead of Chinese lyricusn and given a prominent place in the history of Chinese poetry.

Publisher Statement

Copyright © 2008 Columbia University Press

Additional Information

ISBN of the source publication: 9780231139410

Full-text Version

Publisher’s Version



Recommended Citation

Cai, Z.-q. (2008). Pentasyllabic Shi poetry: The “Nineteen Old Poems”. In Z.-q. Cai (Ed.), How to read Chinese poetry: A guided anthology (pp.103-117). New York, NY: Columbia University Press.