Ci (poetry) - Lyric Chinese Poetry
Ci (词) is a kind of lyric Chinese poetry. For speakers of English, the word "ci" is pronounced somewhat like "tsuh". It is also known as Changduanju (长短句 "lines of irregular lengths") and Shiyu (诗馀 "that which is beside poetry").
Typically the number of characters in each line and the arrangement of tones were determined by one of around 800 set patterns, each associated with a particular title, called cípái 词牌. Originally they were written to be sung to a tune of that title, with set rhythm, rhyme, and tempo. Therefore, the title may have nothing to do with its contents, and it is common for several ci to appear to have the same title. Some ci would have a "subtitle" (or a commentary, sometimes as long as a paragraph) indicating the contents. Sometimes, for the sake of clarity, a ci is listed under its title plus its first line.
Ci most often express feelings of desire, often in an adopted persona, but the greatest exponents of the form (such as Li Houzhu and Su Shi) used it to address a wide range of topics.
Beginning in the Liang Dynasty, the ci followed the tradition of the Shi Jing and the yue fu: they were lyrics which developed from anonymous popular songs (some of Central Asian origin) into a sophisticated literary genre. The form was further developed in the Tang Dynasty, and was most popular in the Song Dynasty.
Two main categories of ci employed in Song Dynasty were xiǎolìng 小令 (the original form since Pre-Song) and màncí 慢词 (starting after Liu Yong), depending on the song being either short and in fast tempo or long and in slow tempo. Later in Ming Dynasty and Qing Dyansties, the ci, or rather the cipai, are classified for the number of characters it dictates. It's called xiǎolìng 小令 if it's no more than 58 characters, zhōngdiào 中调 for 59-90, and chángdiào 长调 for over 90. If the ci appears in one stanza, it's called dāndiào 单调, mostly xiǎolìng written in Pre-Song era. The largest majority is shuāngdiào 双调 with two stanzas or qüè 阕 in identical or nearly identical patterns. There also are rare cases of sāndié 三叠 and sìdié 四叠, for three and four qüè, respectively. In terms of style, ci can also be classified as either wǎnyuē 婉约 or háofàng 豪放.
Most cipai consist of three characters. The literal meaning of a cipai can be rather obscure, making it difficult to translate. Some are taken straight from earlier poems, and some are clearly of Non-Han origin — mostly songs introduced from Central Asia. Some cipai have alternative names, usually taken from a famous piece of that very cipai. There also are variants of certain cipai, indicated by a prefix or a suffix.
To the Tune of Riverside City - For ten years here I wander and there you lie
「十年生死两茫茫。不思量，自难忘。千年孤坟，无处话凄凉。纵使相逢应不识，尘满面、鬓如霜。夜来幽梦忽还乡。小轩窗，正梳妆。相顾无言，惟有泪千行。料得年年肠断处：明月夜，短松冈。」“For ten years here I wander and there you lie./ I don't think about you often,/ yet how can I forget you!/ With your grave a thousand miles away,/ where can I confide my loneliness?/ Even if we met, could you recognize me,/ with dust all over my face/ and hair like frost?/ Last night I had a dream in which I returned home./ By the window,/ you were combing your hair./ We Looked at each other silently,/ with tears streaming down our cheeks./ There's a place which every year will be my misery：/ the moonlit night,/ the hill of short pines. 「Su Shi, 《江城子·十年生死两茫茫》，苏轼」