Tag Archives: Book of Songs

Study the Book of Songs

Confucius said: “Little ones, why don’t you study the Book of Songs? The Book of Songs can inspire your imagination, provide a vehicle for self-contemplation, make you more sociable, and voice a complaint more effectively. At home it enables you to serve your father; further afield it helps you serve your lord. You can also learn the names of many birds, animals, plants, and trees from it.”

Confucius said to his son Boyu: “Have you studied the first and the second parts of the Book of Songs? Anyone who hasn’t studied the first and second parts of the Book of Songs will remain stuck as if standing with their face to a wall.”

Perhaps one day after finishing off the Analects, I will have a crack at the Book of Songs (詩經/shījīng), though given my current rate of progress I’ll probably have to wait until my next lifetime. Continue reading Study the Book of Songs

Poetic exchanges

子曰:「誦詩三百,授之以政,不達;使於四方,不能專對。雖多,亦奚以為?」Confucius said: “Imagine a man who can recite the three hundred poems of the Book of Songs by heart but is unable to carry out his job when given an official post or proves to be incapable of responding on his own initiative when sent on a mission to another state. No matter how many poems he may have memorized, what use would they be to him?”

In Confucius’s time, court and diplomatic discussions were carried out in a ritualistic fashion in which the participants made extensive quotations from the Book of Songs (詩經/shījīng) to emphasize their points and make appropriate allusions to similar incidents in the past. Continue reading Poetic exchanges

Like carving and polishing stones

Zigong said: “’Poor but not subservient; wealthy but not arrogant.’ What do you think of that?” Confucius said: “Not bad, but this would be better still: ‘Poor but content; wealthy but loves ritual.’” Zigong said: “In the Book of Songs it is said: ‘Like carving and polishing stones, like cutting and grinding gems.’ Is this not the same idea?” Confucius said: “Wonderful, Zigong! At last I can discuss the Book of Songs with you! I only have to tell you what came before, and you can work out what comes next!”

“Like carving and polishing stones, like cutting and grinding gems.” I can’t think of a better metaphor for the process of self-cultivation than this line from the Book of Songs that Zigong quotes to Confucius during their bout of poetic banter. I suppose that the modern day equivalent would be “sharpening the saw”. Continue reading Like carving and polishing stones