Contested Classicism in Modern Transitions: Chinese Classic-Style Poetry after 1917
1: Sedimentary Pathos and Elaborate Classicism: On Chen Yinke's “The Elegy of Mr Wang Guantang with a Preface”
Sunday, March 27, 2022
9:00am – 10:30am EST
Virtual Paper Presenter(s)
Washington University in St Louis, United States
On June 2nd, 1927, the eminent scholar and renowned loyalist, Wang Guowei, mysteriously drowned in the imperial Preserving Harmony Garden 頤和園. In the following days, his colleague in Tsinghua University, Chen Yinke 陳寅恪, an equally important cultural figure in Republican China, wrote an elegiac couplet and a regulated poem mourning Wang’s death. Still, months later, in the autumn of the same year, Chen felt “his thoughts are not yet exhausted” 意有未盡 and composed “The Elegy of Mr Wang Guantang with a Preface” (王觀堂先生輓詞並序), a long heptasyllabic classical-style poem (112 lines) with a preface written in the classical language. This paper conducts an analysis of Chen’s long elegiac poems together with its preface as an inseparable whole, investigating the feeling of the necessity of extending Chen’s inexhausted thoughts in long poems in epic forms. I ask how Chen’s classicism – his belief and deliberate choice of writing in classical forms – elaborates his poetic response to national calamities and individual tragedies such as Wang’s death through the esoteric writings in the tradition of Changqing style 長慶體. I argue that “The Elegy of Mr Wang Guantang” functions as an enlarged vessel containing Chen’s sedimentation of pathos and as a stabilizer of Chen’s structure of feelings in the time of peril.