[KS] Use of tones and rhyme scheme in hansi poetry

gkl1 at columbia.edu gkl1 at columbia.edu
Fri Aug 10 23:56:55 EDT 2012

Quoting Andrew <zatouichi at gmail.com>:

> Dear all,
> I want to ask if anyone knows of, or could offer, a clear guide or
> explanation of the tonal rhyme scheme used in Korean hansi (Chinese poems)
> quatrains.  The most comprehensive explanation I've found so far is in <漢詩의
> 理解> by Jo Du-hyeon (조두현).  I currently understand that the rhyming
> technique was known as apunbeop 押韻法 (압운법), that it utilizes the four tones
> (平聲 ,上聲 ,去聲,入聲) and that the basic rhyme comes on the last character of the
> second and fourth line (and sometimes the first).  Below are four specific
> areas I'm most curious about.
> 1.) Is there any knowledge of how hansi were recited out loud during the
> late Joseon period?  It's sometimes mentioned in sources how a scholar
> would recite poems so much that everyone in the household learnt them too,
> so what was he singing?  Was there a set melody?  Were the tones and their
> rhymes distinguishable?

All I can recall from the early 1950s, when I had not yet started my
Chinese studies, was that whether it was a hansi or a Korean poem it
was the passion that always moved me.  Later, after I had studied
classical Chinese for six or seven years, I was struck by the fact
that there was no reflection of Chinese tones (at least as in
Mandarin) when spoken or sung out loud by a Korean, even those who
were practiced Hanmun readers and enjoyed Chinese poetry.

> 2.) There were also meant to have been manuals of rhymes to help less
> talented poets compose: do any of these still exist?  Were they Chinese or
> Korean authored?
I don’t know about Korean manuals specifically dedicated to Chinese
poetry, but I’m sure that Korean poets of the Silla and KoryO periods
were acquainted with Chinese riming dictionaries, or yunshu (unsO 韻書).
At least from the mid-late KoryO period on, those would have been the
Libu yunlyue (K. Yebu ullyak 禮部韻略) or the Wuyin jiyun (K. oUm chib’un
(五音集韻), which were the most popular among poets, Chinese as well as
Korean. These are organized by rime in the traditional order and were
well known for their literary selections. In Sejong’s time Koreans
developed their own rime books but created a new format. Whereas the
Chinese rime books listed first all the words according to rime,
starting with the Level tone (平聲), followed by the Rising (上),
Departing (去 ), and Entering (入), the Koreans arranged their rime
books by their non-tonal pronunciation of the characters, listing all  
the words of a single class of pronunciations, with all four tones  
listed together
for that class. One can see that, for the Chinese, who knew which tone  
or tones
went with what words, they could more rapidly find them in a listing
arranged by rime, whereas for the Koreans, the problem was more likely
to be that they knew the Korean pronunciation of the character but not
the Chinese tone. Yet they knew that in order to write an acceptable
poem there had to be a certain tonal interplay, and that they could not
afford to get them wrong

> 3.)  In modern Korean hanja dictionaries, if you look up a character it
> also gives the associated tone (平,上,去 or 入) and beside that another
> character which possesses the same tone.  For each of the four tones, there
> are up to 25 of these "representative characters," but what is their
> relation to the particular character you look up?  What decides which of
> the "representative characters" for that tone is associated with any one
> particular character?  Sometimes it appears potentially semantic, but not
> always.  For example, if you look up 水, it's tone is 入, whilst the
> associated "representative character" is 紙: so how does that work?
I’m embarassed  not  to have a more recent hanja dictionary. The two I
have, from the 1970s and 80s had no such feature. Could you supply an
example or two of the problem you mention? With that I might be able
to give some answers. But I’ll tell you one thing: the character 水is
in the Rising (上) tone, not the Entering (入). The character (紙) is
also in the Rising tone, so that makes some tonal sense vis-a-vis 水.
But I fail to see what that information is worth.

> 4.)  Sometimes a given character has more than one tone, depending on usage
> and occasionally pronunciation.  However, I am surprised that this is not
> always related to a semantic difference (ie that the character has two
> distinct meanings), but often it is only grammatical, eg the tone changes
> depending on whether the character is being used as a noun or as a verb (eg
> 知, 下, 風, 衣, 王, 雨) or sometimes simply between whether the verb is being
> used in a transitive or intransitive function (eg 湯).  This seems
> significant as it implies, if the tone of the character is known, the
> interpretation of the poem can be slightly more explicit.

If the same character has more than one tone, then it is generally
always related to a different meaning or a different grammatical
function, as with the examples you cite. On the other hand some
characters have lots of meanings without any tonal distinction at all.

Gari Ledyard

> I would be very grateful for any advice or general pointers!
> sincerely
> Andrew Logie
> (University of Helsinki)

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