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The Metaphysical Lyric of the Six Dynasties

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image of T'oung Pao

In the third and fourth centuries there flourished in China a literary tradition that integrated abstruse philosophizing into pentasyllabic verse: xuanyan shi or the “metaphysical lyric.” Xuanyan verse was mostly ignored in the great wave of literary critique and classification during the succeeding centuries, and much has been lost, but by using a variety of sources, ranging from the Shishuo xinyu to later imitations, we can ascertain its features and assess its later impact. Xuanyan verse played a key role in the development of early medieval poetry, providing a philosophical foundation to undergird poetic genres from which it at first appears quite alien. This article first describes the ideological and cultural context of xuanyan poetry, then surveys its major exemplars, and finally demonstrates its enduring influence.

Affiliations: 1: (Hong Kong Baptist University)


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