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The Iron Flute: War Poetry from Ancient & Medieval China

Posted 23rd July 2019

We will shortly be publishing The Iron Flute. This is a ground-breaking anthology of classical Chinese poems on the subject of war. It draws mainly on two traditional sub-genres: 'border poetry' (biansai shi) and 'poetry of chaos and loss' (sangluan shi).

'Border poetry' depicts the life led by conscript soldiers and their officers in the remote and barren borderlands to China's north-west. The Great Wall overshadows their struggles and privations, as they battle against nomadic tribes and inclement weather.

'Poetry of chaos and loss' is a type of poetry that relies on eyewitness accounts of the many occasions when China has been torn apart by external invasions on the one hand, or internal rebellion on the other. One of its greatest exponents is Yuan Haowen, who somehow survived the Mongols' annihilation of the Jin dynasty, and then lived for several decades under the Yuan. Over fifty other poets are represented.

To give you an idea of what to expect, here are two poems that, for reasons of space, we were not able to include in the anthology: