History:

Lüshi, Wade-Giles romanization lü-shih, is a specific type of Chinese poetry verse form that reached its final codification in the Tang dynasty(618–907), and is considered one of the most important poetry forms in classic Chinese poetry. Lushi is fun, and thick, and has a lot going on in writing it.

Structure:

An important note: Now, we talk a lot here about how forms that originated in one language do not translate exactly into a different language because of how the different languages use and relate to rhythm and sound. But this is especially true with Asian language poetry forms, because it is a completely different structure of language. When they say, for example, that the syllable count of a haiku us 5-7-5 they are approximating the technical demands in the verse form from a language that conveys meaning in a totally different way, with completely different grammatical rules than English. We can go into this later, but all this is to say that “syllables” as we understand them are not actually what the Asian poets are counting, and, for example, the haiku 5-7-5 is a sort of rough approximation that somebody came up with and just became standardized by schoolteachers and others with notions of strict formal discipline. All that is to say, hardcore devotees of the “true” haiku (if such a thing can even really be said to exist in English) tend to write pieces that contain the three “lines” w/ variant sets of syllables anywhere within the 3-7 or so range (usually less than 5-7-5, not more) and they are often not even arranged as three separate lines when printed/typed. This applies to any Asian poetry form being written in a western language. Also, considering all of these considerations, we need to remember that Tang Dynasty Chinese was not fettered by multisyllabic word issues, and that one could say that content is more crucial to the spirit of the lushi than structure. Sprit of the form versus letter of the form. So prioritize using dense language (nouns, etc), rather than empty language (particles of speech, etc), and following the content guidelines over trying to replicate a structure from a language 100% different than English.

Cool? Awesome. Onward.

  • Eight lines of 5-7 syllables each, regulated verse form
    • A five syllable line count Lushi is called a wulü
    • A seven syllable line count Lushi is called a qilü
    • Extended forms (pailü): expansion of the forms listed above with more than eight lines.
    • And finally, 4 syllable line count Lushi are called jueju
    • Generally, you pick a line length and stick with it throughout the poem, but lets remember the note above.
    • Again, don’t just use multisyllabic words, or monosyllabic words, over much denser, juicier words just for the count.
  • Rhyme on even numbered lines, with one rhyme used throughout
    • Ok, rhyme is tricky here, for obvious reasons. But it is mandatory. And it is tempting and common to simplify it by saying the above statement which has somewhere along the line been generally agreed upon. But every scholarly source I found admits that to determine the rhyme scheme from Tang dynasty poetry forms in modern English is a fool’s errand and is rather pointless. Most times, this is a place where the poet doing the writing can pick a scheme and run with it.
  • Lines in a couplet arrangement
  • The lines contain a caesura before the final trisyllable. Possibly trochee line endings.
  • Tonal pattern, which is imperfectly translated into English. But iambs are used to approximate
  • Parallelism in the second and third couplets.
  • “Exposition (qi) was called for in the first two lines; the development of the theme (cheng), in parallel verse structure, in the middle, or second and third, couplets; and the conclusion (he) in the final couplet.”
  • A preference for dense words (nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc) and avoidance of empty words (grammatical particles, adverbs, etc)

 

Sources:

Encyclopedia Britannica
Wikipedia (don’t be a snob, it’s legit)
I don’t know who this is, but she made some really good points
Also her