Friday, May 22, 2009

Entry: Lion-Eating Poet in the Stone Den

Thanks to SeeaSea for sending me a link to this article!

"Lion-Eating Poet in the Stone Den," on top of being an awesome title in a variety of circumstances, is a classical Mandarin poem written by Yuen Ren Chao, a contemporary Chinese linguist.

In a stunning feet of tonal language acrobatics, the poem is 92 syllables, all of which are "shi." In Hanyu Pinyin, a method of Romanticizing Mandarin, it looks like this:

Shíshì shīshì Shī Shì, shì shī, shì shí shí shī.
Shì shíshí shì shì shì shī.
Shí shí, shì shí shī shì shì.
Shì shí, shì Shī Shì shì shì.
Shì shì shì shí shī, shì shǐ shì, shǐ shì shí shī shìshì.
Shì shí shì shí shī shī, shì shíshì.
Shíshì shī, Shì shǐ shì shì shíshì.
Shíshì shì, Shì shǐ shì shí shì shí shī.
Shí shí, shǐ shí shì shí shī, shí shí shí shī shī.
Shì shì shì shì.

The English translation:

In a stone den was a poet Shi, who was a lion addict, and had resolved to eat ten.
He often went to the market to look for lions.
At ten o'clock, ten lions had just arrived at the market.
At that time, Shi had just arrived at the market.
He saw those ten lions, and using his trusty arrows, caused the ten lions to die.
He brought the corpses of the ten lions to the stone den.
The stone den was damp. He asked his servants to wipe it.
After the stone den was wiped, he tried to eat those ten lions.
When he ate, he realized that these ten lions were in fact ten stone lion corpses.
Try to explain this matter.

Yes, fellow Westerners, in classical Mandarin, "shi" means all those things. Since it's a tonal language, the distinction comes from how each syllable is said (if your voice goes up at the end, for instance).

The poem isn't profound (unless there's an extended metaphor in there that went completely over my Western head), but still a really impressive example of constrained writing. I can't even crank out a decent villanelle.

8 comments:

Shannon Lambert said...

Love your blog! I had my own proud wiki moment today in English when the word Miscegenation was used and even the teacher wasn't sure what it meant. Thankfully last week I was reading about ethnic demographic in different countries and happened to follow some links to get to the definition of that very word.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miscegenation

Though I prefer when I can use wiki'd knowledge to win at Jeopardy (and by win, I mean get the answer before anyone else at home does).

Regina said...

Wiki is an interesting experiment in collaborative knowledge, sure, but we all know its real purpose is for solving casual disputes and getting good at trivia games.

aprilstarchild said...

There's an Icelandic tongue twister that goes:

"Áki á Á á á á Á."

Supposedly translates (I don't speak Icelandic) to: "Áki on Á has an ewe on Á." Not sure where "Á" is.

Frederick Milton said...

One thing that I didn't expect that it is the Shi eats lions and he went searching for them. After he killed them he tried to eat them. I think that he needed. it is Generic Viagra

william1437 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
william1437 said...

what a beautiful poem, do you have a more accurate translation? kamagra

Kagami said...

Some people want to replace Chinese character to Latin script in early 20 Century ,but Yuen Ren Chao , as a scholar, write this poem to prove it's impossible. This poem is just for fun.

Melany Flemmings said...

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