The Lost Poems of Cangjie: The Xian Scrolls
Briscoe's The Lost Poems of Cangjie, published by RiskPress, are translations of recently discovered poems of the Chinese historical figure Cangjie, storied inventor of the Chinese system of writing during the reign of The Yellow Emperor, Huangdi, in the 27th century BCE, approximately 4700 years ago.
(Some scholars do not believe there was a Yellow Emperor, just as they once believed there was no Xia dynasty. Evidence unearthed in the city of Yanshi in 1959, however, proved the existence of the Xia, which ruled after the time of the Yellow Emperor from approximately 2100 to 1800 BCE. The discoveries of Cangjie's poems may prove the existence of the Yellow Emperor.)
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This is a delightful and fanciful collection of wonderful little poems and partial poems purported to have been written by the legendary 4-eyed Cangjie, developer of the Chinese writing system. Cangjie was someone I always thought of as a part of the mythology surrounding the development of the Chinese ideographic writing system, not as a poet.
Personally, I can’t see how such works could really be by this legendary person, but whether you can suspend belief or not, the poems themselves are brief, and often beautiful & moving little works, mostly directed toward the poet’s love, a woman who, we are told, was a concubine to the also legendary Yellow Emperor. The poems were discovered and transcribed and translated into late second-century BCE Chinese by a scholar-artisan who lived during the reign of the first (historical) emperor, Qin Shihuang, and worked on the life size terracotta sculptures that surround the first emperor’s tomb. This artisan’s poems are also included. These are equally as poignant and surprisingly similar in style to those of Cangjie.
All of this is followed by an essay which tells the story behind these poems by “E. O.”, the mysterious English language translator. His essay establishes and investigates the mystery and mythology surrounding these poems. Mystery piles upon mystery here.
Somehow, the prominent San Francisco lawyer, Mr. John Briscoe, is somehow involved with the publishing of this collection and has added a foreword to the book. His association with this work, though it may simply be no more than to lend financial and moral support for the project, is equally as mysterious. Of course, to some who know Mr. Briscoe, a lover of poetry and mystery, this all makes sense.
Putting all mystery and mythology aside, the poems themselves are remarkable and stand on their own.
C. Laan Chun Library
Asian Art Museum of San Francisco
Author-poet John Briscoe is a risk-taker with a fine-tuned sense of humor. That’s obvious in his teasing new book --- The Lost Poems of Cangjie --- that demonstrates his mental agility for discerning readers. You may recall that Cangjie was the historian in the court of China’s Yellow Emperor (2697-2597 BC) who created the written form of the language with brushstroke characters.
The Lost Poems of Cangjie is an entertaining romp through poetic fantasy for those who like to be tickled by a kind of Indiana Jones approach to scholarship. And furthermore, the so-called Cangjie poetry is damned good.
San Francisco Author