The Three Categories of the Song Lyric
Tz'u possessing the refined and subtle beauty of ching-chieh can be found in any of the three general categories of the song lyric. The first category is composed of real song words, written by poets as words for tunes, with no intention of expressing their own feelings. Sometimes, however, these short songs (hsiao-ling ) written for amusement will inadvertently reveal the essential nature of the poet's mind as shaped by his personality and experience, resulting in that refined, subtle beauty Wang Kuo-wei found in such songs.
The second category contains those song lyrics no longer written to be sung, being rather poems in song form. These, poets were consciously using as vehicles for self-expression, but they too could achieve a refined, subtle beauty through the depth and complexity of their poetic inspiration (ch'ing-chih ) and the suggestiveness or ramifications of their procedure (fang-shih ); even though written as self-expression, the subtle beauty is still present.
The third category consists of those tz'u that have taken on the manner of rhapsody (fu ), where the poet is deliberately working toward an
elaborate structure, an architectonic design. And in these enigmatic and expository compositions there can also be a subtle, refined beauty.
These three categories are distinguished by the attitude of the poet toward his composition. From the point of view of the critic we need to know what to look for to determine whether the poet has achieved this beauty. Chang Hui-yen (1761–1802) can be taken as representative of one method, which looks for code words (yü-ma ) and associated events to construct moralizing interpretations about the author's intentions and the theme of the poem. Wang Kuo-wei is representative of the other kind of critic, for he relies chiefly on the nature of the feeling conveyed by the poem, and from what that suggests he provides a sort of virtuoso elaboration. His method is most successful when applied to songs of the first category, and Chang Hui-yen's method works best on the third category.