The famous Northern Song ci poet Yan Jidao (1038-1110) left the world his ci poetry collection
Xiaoshan ci (Ci Poems of Yan Xiaoshan). In the collection’s preface, Yan’s close friend Huang Tingjian (1045-1105) highlighted Yan’s writing of ci poems as using the method of composition of a shi poet. This inaugurated the discussion of the methodology of “turning shi poems into ci poems” in the mid-Northern Song period.
“Turning shi poems into ci poems” refers to the penetration and influence of shi poetry on ci poetry in terms of content, subject matter, style, mood, and rhetorical techniques. In the Yuanyou period (1086-1194), this methodology became common in ci poetry writing. This was most commonly seen in the technique of borrowing from the works of poets in the past, and it was also a manifestation of Huang Tingjian’s important theory of poetry ── “to seize the embryo” and “to change the bone” (“duotai huangu”) and “to change iron into gold” (“diantie cheng jin”) in the writing of ci poetry.
This article analyzes Yan Jidao’s Xiaoshan ci to improve our knowledge of Yan’s technique of borrowing lines from former poets, and discusses the significance of Yan’s techniques in the development of ci poetry. This includes the fusing in form of ci and shi poetry, writing ci poetry with the methods and attitude applied in shi poetry, rhetorical refinement and meaning innovation, the display of a pure and lofty style of shi poetry in resplendent ci poetry, and the aesthetic requirement of elegance and indirectness. It also discusses ci poets’ comments on Yan’s borrowing of the lines of former poets in his Xiaoshan ci, in order to grasp the individuality of his ci poetry.