Among the earliest and most influential poetic anthologies was the Chuci (楚辞) (Songs of Chu), made up primarily of poems ascribed to the semi-legendary Qu Yuan (屈原) (ca. 340-278 B.C.) and his follower Song Yu (宋玉) (fourth century B.C.).
The songs in this collection are more lyrical and romantic and represent a different tradition from the earlier Shijing. During the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.-A.D. 220), this form evolved into the fu (赋) , a poem usually in rhymed verse except for introductory and concluding passages that are in prose, often in the form of questions and answers. The era of disunity that followed the Han period saw the rise of romantic nature poetry heavily influenced by Taoism. The Han Chinese astronomer, mathematician, and inventor Zhang Heng (78-139 AD) was also largely responsible for the early development of Shi (诗) poetry.
Classical poetry reached its zenith during the Tang Dynasty (A.D. 618-907). The early Tang period was best known for its lushi 律诗 (regulated verse), an eight-line poem with five or seven words in each line; zi (verse following strict rules of prosody); and jueju （绝句）(truncated verse), a four-line poem with five or seven words in each line. The two best-known poets of the period were Li Bai (701-762) and Du Fu (712-770). Li Bai was known for the romanticism of his poetry; Du Fu was seen as a Confucian moralist with a strict sense of duty toward society. Later Tang poets developed greater realism and social criticism and refined the art of narration. One of the best known of the later Tang poets was Bai Juyi (772-846), whose poems were an inspired and critical comment on the society of his time.
Subsequent writers of classical poetry lived under the shadow of their great Tang predecessors, and although there were many fine poets in subsequent dynasties, none reached the level of this period. As the classical style of poetry became more stultified, a more flexible poetic medium, the ci (词), arrived on the scene. The ci, a poetic form based on the tunes of popular songs, some of Central Asian origin, was developed to its fullest by the poets of the Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD). The Song era poet Su Shi (1037-1101 AD) mastered ci, shi, and fu forms of poetry, as well as prose, calligraphy, and painting.
As the ci gradually became more literary and artificial after Song times, Chinese Sanqu poetry, a more free form, based on dramatic arias, developed. The use of sanqu songs in drama marked an important step in the development of vernacular literature.
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