山村訓長但知覓

The Sanchon Hunjang
(usually clicking on the photos yields an enlarged version)

10/21/2005

 

So, how long have you two been a couplet?

In the old days, Korean people used to think very highly of 대꾸. So highly in fact that they would sit around all day practicing and trying to dream up new 대꾸 to use on each other.

Oops.

It looks like the Sanchon Hunjang has heard one too many people say that Korean is a 발음 나는대로 적는 언어, so there I went and wrote it just like I would say it, "대꾸." But wouldn't you know it, Korean orthography is trickier than that. I should have written 대구 (對句), even though the pronunication key in the 국어사전 tells me it's pronounced the same. Right down to the longer vowel on the first syllable. Not so 발음 나는대로 적는 거구나...
☞ 對: 대할 대, 句: 글귀 구.

It's probably a smaller surprise to hear that those old Confucian scholarly types sat around working on their 對句 대구, not their 대꾸. Because parallel couplets are a very highly regarded thing in the asthetic of Chinese poetry.

In Chinese poetry, the couplet gets all the attention and nobody gives any to the individual lines. Now as to that parallelism thing, in the first place 詩 시 poetry is, by definition, composed of lines of equal length. So the couplets are automatically matching in length. Other than this unaviodable aspect of line length, in old-style 詩 poetry, the use of parallelism in couplets was encouraged but not required. Parallelism refers to matching up all of the the parts of speech so that they come at corresponding positions in both lines. Thus, in a parallel couplet, the position of verb matches verb and noun matches noun. But as time went by, the tendency toward parallelism became stronger and stronger. During the Tang Dynasty, they had come up with new-fangled verse that was supposed to be parallel. To go one better they also added the new burden of requiring parallelism in the tones of the words (I guess everyone knows that Chinese is a tonal language and what that means), which had the effect of making an even stress pattern in the lines--adding a regular rythm to the verse.

There are different levels of parallelism, and the more levels of parallelism that the poet can incorporate into his couplet, the better the couplet is. But the the wording can't appear forced, because that is the biggest no-no of all.

That is the nitty-gritty. Maybe an example would make it more clear. Here is an example of a parallel couplet by the man 李太白 이태백 (the Chinese usually just say "李白," rather than use the 字 자 that he took from his favorite star...)
☞ 李: 오얏 리, 太: 클 태, 白: 흴 백, 雅: 우아할 아, 號: 부르짖을 호, 字: 글자 자.

擧頭望明月, Raise head, look at bright moon;
低頭思故鄉. Lower head, think of home-town.

☞ 擧: 들 거, 頭: 머리 두, 望: 바랄 망, 明: 밝을 명, 月: 달월
低: 낮을 저, 思: 생각 사, 故: 까닭 고, 鄉: 시골 향.

It's kind of a flaw to use the same character twice in a short poem, because it starts to look repetetive. But if you can do it in a way that doesn't seem overly repetitive, or if you are Li Bo, you can break this guideline. See how each line goes verb-object verb-adjective-object? It's not just that the verbs line up. Raise/lower are opposing actions, so that scores some points; looking and thinking are both things you do quietly by yourself--more points; and ending each line with a common phrase that is of the form adjective-noun gets even more points. And the phrasing doesn't seem artificial or contrived. Our judges rate this poem a solid 9.5. If only he hadn't repeated "head," it could have been a perfect 10.

That's the parallelism. This aspect of Chinese poetry can sometimes be a help in figuring out tricky lines, because you can use the clues provided in parallel line.

The observant will have noticed that 月 and 鄕 don't rhyme. That's because the rhyming usually happens between the couplets, not usually inside the couplet. In this poem, the first couplet ends in the -ang sound that you see rhymed in 鄕.

Like the Sanchon Hunjang said, these 대구 couplet things are very highly regarded in the noble art of poetry, so people sat around trying to think up good 대구. Just bring any two scholars together. If they don't start scheming on how to eliminate the guys in the opposing faction at court, they are likely to start playing around trying to trump the quality of each other's couplets. And we haven't even mentioned all the drinking games built around matching couplets.

This is why the Korean slogan writers so love those two-part slogans. They usually try to get the same number of syllables in each half and strive for parallelism in the phrasing...all because it hearkens back to that lofty pursuit of the old scholar types. Two quick samples from among the gazillions that bombard Korea dwellers every day in real life:





So anyway, 徐 "my-typewriter-key-sticks" 居正 서거정 (1420-1488) was a scholar and statesman during the early ChosOn Dynasty. Unfortunately he hasn't generated enough interest to have his own English Wikipedia page, which means he's not in the same league as the likes of 서태지, but he was still an amazing anthologer whose inkstone never appears to have dried.
☞ 徐: 천천할 서, 居: 살 거, 正: 바를 정.
Once, he went on a handyman kick and dug himself a lotus pond. Then he planted lotus in it and built a pavilion next to the pond so he could admire the blooms. Now, you can't have a proper pavilion without a clever pavilion name, so he named his pavilion 亭亭亭*). The name was so clever that he even took it as his own 雅號 아호 (as those old scholars were sometimes wont to).
☞ 亭: 정자 정.
When 亭亭亭先生 had finished drafting his book of poetry criticism, ≪東人詩話 동인시화≫ , he was passing it around to a few friends to get their opinions before showing it to the world. 金守溫 김수온 (1410-1481) was one of those asked to peruse it and make comments. After carefully reviewing the text, he turned to 서거정 and indicated that he only had one comment as he inquired as to 서거정's inclination to adopt his suggestion. 서거정 asked to hear the comment. 김수온 responded, "if you can write a parallel phrase to go with 亭亭亭, then you can keep it, but otherwise, change it!" 서거정 wasn't up to the task, perhaps lacking the creativity of some others, and got off by arguing that there is no such thing as a three character per line poem, so he shouldn't have to come up with a parallel construction.
☞ 先: 먼저 선, 生: 날 생, 東: 동녘 동, 人: 사람 인, 話: 말할 화, 金: 성 김, 守: 지킬 수, 溫: 따뜻할 온.

Last story. Near Floating-in-the-Blue Loftbuilding (浮碧樓), there is a mountain, 牧丹山 목단산.
☞ 浮: 뜰 부, 碧: 푸를 벽, 樓: 누각 루, 牧: 칠 목, 丹: 붉을 단, 山: 메 산.



(painting of 부벽루, by NorK painter 홍성광, shamelessly swiped from the internet)


Once, the King of KoryO was on a royal procession to this mountain when he uttered the line:
北斗七星三四點 The seven stars of the Big Dipper are three and four dots

☞ 北: 북녘 북, 斗: 말 두, 七: 일곱 칠, 星: 별 성, 三: 셋 삼, 四: 넉 사, 點: 점 점.

There was a scholar who promptly came up with a matching line:

南山萬壽十千秋 The ten-thousand years the South Mountain [has seen] are ten and a thousand autumns.

☞ 南: 남녘 남, 山: 메 산, 萬: 일만 만, 壽: 목숨 수, 十: 열 십, 千: 일천 천, 秋: 가을 추.

The king was highly impressed with the match of this line to his original and so inspired by the mind that could instantaneously come up with such wonderful parallelism that he awarded the scholar highest marks on the civil service exam. The king was very impressed because, not only had he perfectly paralleled number for number and proper noun for proper noun, as an excellent couplet should, but the really amazing thing was how the scholar had matched the "3 and 4 make 7" effect in the royal line with an equivalent "10 and 1,000 make 10,000."

3 + 4 = 7 and 10 + 1,000 = 10,000? Hmmmmmm. It just goes to show that you don't have to be very good at math to write a poem. Or to become king, for that matter.



*) In spite of what it may appear, this is not the Gertrude Stein approach to naming. In many cases, when a single character is doubled, it makes a 의태어. Of course there are cases like 山山 and 人人, where it doesn't--just one of the many pleasures of learning classical Chinese. 亭亭 is one instance where a doubled character becomes an adjective. When 亭 is douled, it means "우뚝솟다 shooting straight up in the air," so his 아호 is not "A pavilion is a pavilion is a pavilion," but rather "soaring pavilion." To complete the parallel, 서거정 would have had to come up with a noun, preferably that means a kind of building, that also makes some sort of adjective when doubled that could then be used to describe that same building.

Comments:
very coy. you tell 'em how silly they are with their 발음 나는대로 쓴다 garbage.
 
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