What is Cang Tou Shi? 「急思廣溢」新解

What is Cang Tou Shi? 「急思廣溢」新解

What is "Cang Tou Shi"? "Cang" is the Chinese word for "to hide", or "hidden". "Tou" means at the beginning. "Shi" is the Chinese word for poetry and poem. So "Cang Tou Shi" can be translated as "Hidden Word Poetry". It can be regarded as the Chinese version for acrostic. The difference is, while with "acrostic", certain letters in each line form a word or words, in  "Cang Tou Shi", every first word of the poem form a meaningful phrase, or a sentence. 



In Chinese language, there are no letters. Every single word/character stands alone and means something. So, putting every first word of each line of a poem together, they mean something else.

Well, now let's show everyone an example of Cang Tou Shi. 





The other day, Yuan Xi, a poet from the White Cloud Poetry Society, wrote a Cang Tou Shi to celebrate the creation of the society. When trying to translate it into English, I first thought, "How can I translate a Cang Tou Shi into English and still keep the interesting 'Cang Tou' form? I think I can only try to put the four words for White Cloud Poetry Society in each line at the most."

So I thought hard and came up with something like this:




In Appreciation of The White Cloud Poetry Society

Within a vast white realm, our spirit traverses back to the origins of  time

Surrounded by an ocean of clouds, our poetic endeavors reach to the heavens

Upon completion of our writings, we find the breeze so cool, the moon so bright

As a society of poets, we aspire to catch a glimpse of life deep within the highest of mountains.

I felt quite relieved and happy as I attempted to put the "White Cloud Poetry Society" in each line. So, I went on with cooking my breakfast. 

And then I thought to myself, "Why not try harder to make it a real Cang Tou Shi?"

So I moved these words around in each and every way in my mind, and really did it! So this is what you see on our website now:

然後就覺得,可以了吧?好歹白雲詩社 (White Cloud Poetry Society)這四個字我都塞進去了?



In Appreciation of The White Cloud Poetry Society

White realms vast, our hearts traversing back to the origins of  time

Cloud to oceans surrounding us, our poetic endeavors reaching to the heavens

Poetry now completed, we find a cool breeze with the moon so bright

Society of poets, we aspire to catch a glimpse of life upon the highest of mountains.

I became so excited for having really worked it out, but only to find, alas! The pumpkin porridge I was cooking had spilled over and made a mess!


When sharing this story to Yuan Xi, she jokingly said, "Ha, this is what we call 'Think Fast, Spill Widely' in that idiom 'Ji Si Guang Yi'."


"Ji Si Guang Yi" is actually a very commonly used Chinese idiom meaning "to go gather everyone's thoughts and wisdom to benefit more people". 


So, by replacing two characters in that idiom with two other characters with exactly the same pronunciation, Yuan Xi made it into meaning "Think Fast, Spill Widely" to laugh about my situation. I think this is a very clever way of playing around with words. No wonder she is such an outstanding poet! While teasing me about spilling my porridge, she also praised my quick wit. 

And I said, "Oh, no, I felt more like a Xiang Ling!"

And who is Xiang Ling? Well, she is a character in perhaps THE greatest Chinese novel "Dream of the Red Chamber" in Chinese history. Although born into a good family, she was kidnapped as a child and sold to the Xue family and was often mistreated.

However, although she was a half-slave and half "concubine", she was known for her painstaking endeavors to learn how to compose poems, and to become a poet like all the other beautiful and talented girls at the Grand View Garden. She worked so hard that she often forgot about everything else, and often got teased by those clever ones.

Well, when racking my brain so hard to work out my first "Cang Tou Shi", I really did feel like being Xiang Ling for a moment, clumsy and but trying hard!

Photo: A Chinese painting of Xiang Liang by Guo Muxi 圖:郭慕熙工筆仕女畫《香菱覓句》

Photo: A Chinese painting of Xiang Liang by Guo Muxi 圖:郭慕熙工筆仕女畫《香菱覓句》

Song to the White Lotus 白蓮歌

Song to the White Lotus 白蓮歌

Alight in Fire    

Alight in Fire