Is this Chinese poem familiar to you?
It should be.
In Singapore, Chinese students should be pretty familiar with some poems created by the legendary Li Bai (李白), aside from San Zi Jing (三字经) and Di Zi Gui (弟子规).
Especially Di Zi Gui (弟子规), they’re often repeated in primary level classrooms that they’re deeply ingrained in kids’ memory as part of their early education.
But poetry, which is one of the most important aspects of Chinese literature, is certainly more than that. It’s a gem that should be cherished and practised. Chinese poetry can be dated back to as early as the 1st millennium BC. The height of Chinese poetry is said to be during the Tang dynasty when scholars even had to learn poems by heart to pass the imperial exam!
Of course, we don’t encourage students to memorize the complex ones in hope of inserting them into their Chinese compositions.
We know that’s not going to be an easy task, and will only hijack their already busy schedules.
Simply take some time to learn some short ones that they can use in their Chinese compositions when necessary. It’ll definitely be a pleasant surprise for the marker and certainly bonus points to their Chinese essay grades!
To break out of the run-of-the-mill writing, we select four of the very finest classic poems that every primary school kid should know.
4 Classic Chinese Poems Great For Primary School Chinese Compositions
Seven Steps Verse (Version 1)
People burn the beanstalk to boil beans,
The beans in the pot cry out.
We are born of the selfsame root,
Why should the beanstalk torture the beans so eagerly?
When Cao Pi (曹丕) became the king, Cao Zhi (曹植) was asked to write a poem within seven steps duration or he would be executed. The entire poem was used to reproach Cao Pi’s brutal oppression and heartlessness toward their brotherhood. The sentence “本是同根生，相煎何太急？” is basically a metaphor referring to Cao Pi‘s eagerness to torture his own brother who’s born from the same parent.
As mentioned earlier, this poem is about brotherhood, but can definitely be used when writing about siblinghood, in particular when narrating conflicts faced between siblings, such as:
Thread in the hand of a compassionate mother –
clothes on a wandering son;
just before his departure she sewed closely,
in her mind worrying about his late return.
Who would say that the heart of inch-high grass
could repay the sunshine of deepest spring?
This poem writes about the intense emotions and interdependence between a mother and her son, with the middle two verses fervently conveys the mother’s concern for her son while the last line talks about a son‘s regrets being apart from his loving mother.
When writing about being apart from and missing one’s family, the first and last sentences can come into great use, principally to start a Chinese composition, examples like:
Sitting Alone in Jingting Peak
The birds in the mountains flew to the sky one by one, and the last white clouds in the sky also drifted away.
Jingting peak and I look at each other, no one sees enough, and we are not tired of each other. It seems that only Jingting peak really understands me.
At first sight, the poem is about the scenery. In actuality, the poet is sighing over his bitterness over his situation through the scene. He harbours great ambitions and talents but feels that few people appreciate him. The tone of the poem could come across as being slightly snobbish, as to how he’s often being portrayed.
In light of this, it may be a little tricky using this poem into Chinese composition as it could sound disdainful to some. Always make sure the context is right before applying it to any writings; an example would be:
A Spring Day
When along the River Si I seek blooms of the brilliant day,
Before my eyes stretch away from a boundless scene of beauty.
A glance at the visage of vernal breeze, and I know,
A thousand flowers of purple and red set spring aglow.
This poem is comparably more straightforward than the previous poems, chiefly to depict the beauty of spring from the poet’s perspective when he was on an outing along the river. 万紫千红 has since become an idiom to describe “a riot of colours”, but has extended to figuratively represent “a profusion of trades and industries”.
If your kid happens to be writing about the scenery that features flowers, the last line “等闲识得东风面，万紫千红总是春” or even parts of the poem, would fit perfectly into their writings, such as:
Chinese poetry is fascinating; most pieces have an underlying message and describe the poet’s feelings, nature, circumstances, background, etc. in just a few words. Spending just a few minutes each day learning a new poem can effectively boost your kid’s Chinese writing skills. At the root of it, it can be useful in helping children strengthen their general Chinese language skills. So go ahead and explore the beauty of Chinese with your child through other classic Chinese poems!
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