Writing a English Lushi (and/or Jueju)

There is an upcoming contest at Tourney of the Foxes with the theme of “Roses”, and I’ve decided I wanted to enter a poem. I mused a while, and decided I wanted to attempt to write a rose poem in a Chinese style. It appealed to my sense of appropriateness, as most modern ornamental garden roses are hybrids of Chinese roses. Then, I realized I didn’t really know what that entailed, as Japanese poetry forms are much more popular. So, I looked it up! I wanted a form that had strict enough rules to give me a challenge, give me a framework to work in, and also “feel” recognizably Chinese. I rejected fu, as it’s a form that’s highly ornamental and thus not my style, and ci, because a ci poem requires the work to follow patterns based upon lyrics to traditional songs. Which is super neat, but basically, to even begin to understand how to write a ci poem, I’d have to learn Chinese, and I’ve got too much on my “To Learn” plate as it is. The lushi and jueju forms, however, are much more my cup of tea. Both are composed very similarly, have an appealing economy to them, and have a fairly similar structure. I’ve linked the Encyclopedia Britannica articles for definitions of the forms, but I’m not one hundred percent sure of their accuracy. The sources I’ve found online seem to all differ on what the precise rules are (rhyme scheme for the jueju being AABA or AABB, for example) but all agree that the lushi is 8 lines of 5, 6, or 7  characters/syllables/words (pretty much the same thing in Chinese, where the vast majority of words are monosyllabic and written with one character). However, I found this article, A Critical Study of the Origins of “Chüeh-chü” Poetry by Charles Egan, which seems pretty legit, and I will be drawing upon this heavily. It’s worth a read, if you are into literary criticism. For my purposes, I’ll summarize what I’ll be taking from it to influence construction of English Lushi/Jueju:

1) Rhyme on even numbered lines

2) Confirmation that lines were of fixed length (5,6,7 etc)

3) Lines in a couplet arrangement

4) The lines contain a caesura before the final trisyllable (or triword, tricharacter, etc). Possibly trochee line endings?

5) Tonal pattern, referring to an alternation of stressed/unstressed. Tone in Chinese is imperfectly replicated in English, but iambs will be used to approximate this.

6) The conflation of natural imagery with personal mental states

7) A preference for dense words (nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc) and avoidance of empty words (grammatical particles, adverbs, etc)

8) Parallelism in the second and third couplets (only applies to lushi). To quote Egan’s explanation, “In a parallel couplet, words in the first line are complemented with corresponding second line words that have similar syntactic function but contrasting meaning. Each line is independent, yet tied to the other through a series of equivalences.” For example, “Red flame lights the empty sky/ Green water darkens the swollen earth.” Parallelism does not have to necessarily be this rigid, but for a quick example direct opposites are easiest to compose. I really like this as a technique, for reasons which are off topic, so I will behave and not go into them. 😛 Suffice it to say for an accurate attempt at a lushi, parallelism must at least be attempted. Parallelism sometimes appears in jueju, but is not a requirement of the form.

Next I’ll discuss the issue of how to actually translate the 5 (or 7, etc) character/word/syllable line structure into English. The easiest way is to simply write 5 syllable line quatrains or octets and call it a day. However, I find this method unsatisfactory. English has so many multisyllabic words one ends up either being constrained in expression or nuance. “Brittle” has a different shade of meaning than does “frail”, “terrible” introduces a different feeling than “bad”, but if you use the longer word, the extra syllable may eat into your allowance for other ideas you wanted to express. This can be a fun exercise in challenging composition, but Chinese writers are not fettered by these multisyllabic words, so an English jueju written in this manner is going to be much less “dense” than a comparable Chinese poem. In this manner, I feel that you are sacrificing the spirit of the lushi for the letter, as it were. Professor Jonathon Stalling has invented a method for composing jueju which limits composition to only monosyllabic English words and prioritizes the use of “full words” (nouns, etc) heavily over empty ones (particles of speech), and uses a chart to aid composition, basically a simple table that can be filled in with the desired monosyllabic words, a neat trick which is a big help when setting up parallelism. Here is the pdf for the instructions for an annual contest run for child poets which very neatly explains his system. Here is the website for the contest, which has posted example poems, winners from previous iterations of the contest. Disclaimer: He invented this system, full credit to him, etc, so on and so forth.  The thing I like most about his system is the use of the table, which make it easier to visualize that Chinese characters are word “blocks” that convey meaning through arrangement and word order. However, poems composed with this method give the impression of caveman talk. To use a rather tongue in cheek example, composed by the illustrious Master Lorenzo:

Me love you long time

You been here four hour

You go home right now

My wife get home soon!

Hilarious? Yes. And, if recomposed to follow the caesura rule discussed earlier:

You, me, love long time

Four hour, you been here

Right now, home you go

My wife, get back soon!

It actually settles into a rhythm that is not half bad. It sounds pretty decent, actually. The quibble I have with this method is that it is “caveman talk”, rather unsophisticated. If you look at many examples of jueju and lushi translated into English, like the following jueju by Jing Changxu or the examples in the Egan article, they are distinctly more elegant:

“Spring Lament”

Hit the yellow oriole perch,
Curb its singing on the branch.
The song broke my dream,
And kept me from Liaoxi!

In the translation, strict syllable and even character/word rule adherence is abandoned in order to incorporate parts of speech, the more empty words like “the, on, and” that are generally rendered unnecessary in Chinese because they are implied by word order and arrangement, but needed in English in order to form a complete grammatically functioning sentence with elegant flow. Yet, these translations abandon much of the structure of the original, in terms of meter, rhyme, the caesura, and so on. Understandable, given the limitations of direct translation. However, when composing an original composition, one has less of an excuse for this. I have been meditating on a method for composing a more faithful approximation of Chinese lushi/jueju. From this point on, this will be more me thinking aloud than authoritative instruction, and is admittedly tentative, and may be perhaps too complicated to be practical, but I shall make an attempt. One would start by composing a poem using the Stalling method, though it would be my personal preference to allow the inclusion of multisyllabic words. This compromises metrical accuracy for the sake of thematic variety, but I think more is to be gained than lost by doing this. The Stalling method then gives you the bones of the poem, as it were. Think of this as how the poem would look on the page, if was to be written in ideograph form. Think of these as the images and ideas you want your poem to hold/convey. To make less work for yourself later on, it would be best if you already have the rhyme scheme set at this point. For this, example, I went with an AABA rhyme scheme:

Autumn field gives harvest dry
Red flame lights empty sky
Green wheat darken swollen earth
Ending bring life silent cry

From this point, place a caesura, so that each line ends with three syllables. Conveniently, this was mostly already done:

Autumn fields give, harvest dry
Red flame lights, empty sky
Swollen earth, green wheat dark
Ending bring life, silent cry.

Rearranging the third line disrupts parallelism, but as this is only mandatory for lushi, this is acceptable.  Next, give the lines grammatical structure to eliminate the “caveman” effect, while attempting to maintain an iambic structure, pre caesura.

Autumn fields gave us, harvest dry
Firelight red gave us, crimson sky
Swollen earth gave us, greening wheat
Ending life gave us, voice to cry

At this point, the poem went completely out of my control, it went in a weird direction, and this was not the end result that I wanted, though I don’t hate the poem. When read aloud, it sounds distinctly western, as well. Somehow every line now has the equivalent of 6 ideographs? I don’t even know what this meter is, but it’s not iambs.  Perhaps monosyllabic vocabulary cannot be dispensed with for the right sound? I will have to think on this. And try more poems, which will hopefully not careen out of control. Sometimes poems be pushy, y’all.


Faux Mary Rose style bracer

Yesterday, I had mentioned to Lorenzo that I was wanting to make a bracer for archery, but not anytime soon, and he sent me a link to one he had made. This led me on a merry rabbit trail to this, and this,and that, and also this! So then, I was like, I’ll just cut out a practice one on some scrap armor bend leather “just to see”. “Just to see” is a trap, as indicated by the tooled cuirboilli bracer drying on my kitchen table.

After much internal debate and looking at the examples, I went with an imitation of this bracer, the fanciest one, mostly because my stamp set had similar stamps (acorn, leaf, and flowers). However, I do want to make the point that this is a much less accurate method for reproduction. The decoration on the Mary Rose example is embossed rather than stamped, a more time consuming process.  Thus, the only real similarity in the decoration is motif rather than method. In addition, I used a much heavier weight leather (14-16 oz), because it was scrap leftover from armoring and thus free. 😉 The Mary Rose bracers were constructed from approximately 8 oz leather. The example I used was approximately 5 inches long. The scrap I used was 5 and 7/8 inches long, which I figured would be fine given the leather shrinks in the hardening process. So far, the bracer is now at 5 1/2 inches long, but has not finished drying. It is a little small in width at 4 and 7/8 inches wide, but given that I am a wee short lass and not a burly Tudor yeoman, I figured that would be ok. I probably would have made it a little wider, but my scrap wasn’t that wide.


It was unclear to me from the pictures whether both corners of the example bracer were curved, or just one side, and the other flat, so I just went with the latter as I thought this would conform more naturally to the shape of the arm.


It is super cute and also super annoying when you are trying to cut a curve into 14 oz leather with a box cutter and your cat decides it’s time for him to groom your arm.


Once I had it cut out, I traced it onto a piece of computer paper and roughed in a design. Since my bracer was narrower than the example, I omitted the upper lettering portion, found my center points, and laid out the design with the aid of a straight edge and the stamps, which I traced onto the paper.

I have never tooled leather before, so I looked up a bunch of different how-tos, all of which gave different advice. They all generally agreed you have to wet the leather, but not too wet, and it will be all soggy and won’t hold the impressions. Too dry, and it won’t take an impression at all. I went with this method, because I was too excited about this project to do the techniques that want you to let the leather dry over night. It was also probably the most helpful video out of all the ones I saw. Basically, I wet the leather down several times over the top grain, till it felt cool and pleasantly damp, but not soggy, a little bit like firm clay. Then I waited about 30 minutes, until it started to turn back into the lighter tan dry color. While I waited, I set a pot of water to boil and used a dead pen and the paper design to trace the straight lines of the design onto the damp leather, making a light impression. Image

Hopefully you can see how it’s just lightly pressed in. At the bottom edges, the leather is beginning to turn its normal color. I began tooling shortly after this point.


I’m missing several important tools (seeder, beveler, backgrounder), but I do have a skiver and the stamps I need for the design, so at least there’s that.


I’m clearly a novice, and you can see where my stamp slipped on an acorn and a couple leaves. The dots on the edging could also be more even, but over all not too shabby for my first attempt.








I wish I had thought to take a video of the actual curboiling process. That may be a subject of a later post, when I have a better camera (read: better phone). Anywho, I boiled it according to the method described here. I prefer this method of hardening leather because I believe that this was most likely the period way of hardening leather, at least in the west. After boiling the leather according this method, I removed it from the water, wiped off the excess drippage, then placed it on my arm, which was protected by a towel I had prewrapped around my arm. I used a long hair band to hold it to my arm, as tightly as was comfortable. You can use a form like a glass bottle or something, but I prefer to use myself. 😉 Ensures a perfect fit! You need the towel though, and for the first few minutes it will be uncomfortably hot. Wiping the excess water off helps with this, less scalding water soaks into the towel. You have to do this fast, btw. The leather is extremely flexible right when it comes out, but stiffens quickly. If you want a close fit (which I did), as soon as it stops being uncomfortably hot I removed the bracer, then redid the binding to my arm, this time without the towel. Then, for the next 10-15 min, I went about my daily tasks with it strapped to my arm.


Then I took it off and left it to dry for a day. I left the hairbands on it, not super tight, just to keep it from relaxing too much in the drying process. This was probably overkill, as it was already pretty stiff at that point.


Here you can see the design has lost crispness in the hardening process, but nothing too awful. You can still tell what the stamps are supposed to be, at least. I wonder if this is less of a problem with embossing? It would be an interesting experiment.


Then I painted her like one of my French women! 😀 With about as much subtlety. 😉 All I had on hand was acrylics, so it’s very…vibrant. The original was painted, and gilded in the places where I have painted it yellow. Yellow acrylic is not even a good halfarsed attempt to substitute for gilt, so it would have been better to leave it brown. But hey! It’s cheerful.


The lighting in my project room is terrible, but I riveted the strap on with some hardware store nails. I cannibalized a thrift store belt, which is always nice because the buckle is already put on there for me. 😀 (I hate riveting) However, you can see I did make an attempt to mimic the shape of the period straps, a “Y” shape. The bracer is now functional and done, I just need to remember to take a picture of the final product.  80% of this post was written a month ago, but I derped and published it on the wrong blog. Ooops! Gave me time to get around to riveting the darn thing, at least.


Poem: Rhyme Royal vs Bastard Quatrain

I originally wrote this poem in a form I’m calling a bastard quatrain; it would be long measure if I had an ear for meter, but my meter is pretty irregular, so probably the best way to describe the form is the bastard love child of long measure and redondilla (though I can’t find hard and fast confirmation as to whether the redondilla is actually meter-less or rather, made of trochees [In the extensive, rigorous ten minutes of Googling I did]). There was a poetry contest at the last Dreamstone, which had a Chaucerian theme, so they were looking for poems written in Rhyme royal, which is a 7 line stanza iambic pentameter form. I waited until the 11th hour to do a poem for it, so figured the easiest thing to do would be to adapt this poem. I ended up regretting the choice, as I much preferred the original form. I felt forcing the poem into a shape it didn’t “want” to be made the language stilted at times and the flow more awkward. I’m rather odd and superstitious about form, though. I feel like every poem has a shape it “wants” to be, and if you allow the poem to flow into that shape, you get a better poem out of it. In addition, rhyme royal is a form better suited to ornamentation, and I prefer simplicity in my work as a general rule.

Rhyme Royal Version:

The Reluctant Husband

With a heavy heart this morning of May,

I make my slow way to the chapel door,

For this morn is my wedding day,

And I shall tarry with my love no more,

For I walk towards a bride I abhor.

The ring silver seems a jailor’s hard chain.

There is nothing sweet in this parting’s pain.

It is the sweet Catrin that I do love,

Her kindly smile, her skillful lute playing,

Her voice as soft as the coo of the dove,

Not foul Roslyn with her donkey braying.

To buy her silence would be worth the paying.

It is hard fate for a man yet young to bear,

When he has known truly a love so fair.

The fair Catrin has skin as soft as morning dew,

A waist as slim as a lily’s thin stem.

Of sores and spots Roslyn has not few.

Her breath is as rank as the fetid fen.

Upon her brow there sits a ponderous wen.

Catrin’s head has fine gold and silver hair.

Ruth Ann’s dirty brambles cannot compare.

Catrin’s step knows a sweet and gentle grace,

While foul Roslyn naps through the dance,

Blue flies and gnats lighting upon her face.

I guess I could ask Roslyn to prance.

I would prefer to fall upon a lance.

Instead I ask of God to deliver,

A swift quick death or a stronger liver.

Fairest Catrin’s wit is most keen and true

She has no match within a scholar’s duel

If you ask foul Roslyn for two and two

She’ll think you a tormentor rather cruel

I could believe she swapped her brains for gruel

I could believe she had plenty to start

Since she’s eaten enough to fill a cart

Catrin kens well how to please a young man

Lifting him to heaven with softest touch

While foul Roslyn doth kiss as best she can,

Sadly, she seems to slobber over much.

Black hairs about her lips cluster and clutch,

But in fairness and honesty I must tell,

In truth, always she has kept them brushed well.

No more shall I believe that love can last!

No more shall fair Catrin close swive to me1

It has become a dream of the sweet past,

Our fond embrace beneath the linden tree.

Though it seems most cruel, our love is not to be.

For, of years Roslyn has twenty and four,

And fair Catrin has (alas!) two and four score.

Bastard Quatrain Version:

The Reluctant Husband

It is with heavy heart this morn,

That I approach the chapel door,

For this morn is my wedding day.

I shall tarry with my love na’more!

The silver ring seems jailor’s chain.

Tis hard fate for man young to bear,

Marriage to a woman so foul,

When he has known a love so fair.

It is fine sweet Kathrine that I love,

With golden locks light as air.

Not lumbering fat Rosamund,

With a bramblepatch for hair.

Fair Kathrine possesses skin soft,

Fresh and clean as morning dew.

Foul Rosamund’s face, never washed,

Sores and spots she has not few.

Fair Kathrine is as slim and sweet,

As a green slip of lily stem.

Fat Rosamund is foul and round,

A sink-pool in the fetid fen.

Fair Kathrine’s dance step has no par.

Her steps are quick and full of grace.

Foul Rosamund naps through the dance,

Flies lighting quick upon her face.

Fair Kathrine’s wit is quick and keen,

None can match her in a learned duel.

Ask foul Rosamund for two and two,

She’ll think you a tormentor cruel.

Fair Kathrine kens how to please a man,

Bringing him to heaven with a touch.

Foul Rosamund’s kisses are wet,

She slobbers and drools overmuch.

One last time I held Katharine close,

Beneath the bowing linden tree,

And she refused me once again,

As I begged her to swive to me.

With sore heart, I bid her farewell,

For our love is not meant to be:

Of years Rosamund has one and eight,

And fair Kathrine has eight and three.

Poem: Oglacha

This is a poem I wrote for a Danelaw that had an Irish theme, Cattle Raids to be precise.  The oglacha is an apprentice version of the dan direach form, which is allowed more liberties. I attempted to follow dan direach conventions as strictly as possible, with the exception of meter, my Achilles heel.

Oglacha for a Fall Day

Sundered stones scudding across the sere sky

Skystorm clouds clad the clear cold day

Day calm like this I can see to a bold high heaven

High heaven far flung for other men made

Men made for the coppery clang and clash

Clash and clamor of a Cooley cattle raid

Raid red rough and bright brilliant

Brilliant shields shining sunbright

Sunbright underneath a distant dawn

Dawn here had the calm air chill

Chill cold simple scent of slaughterhouse

Slaughterhouse smell of warm wet animals

Animals sickly steaming above the cool stone

Stone sluiced savage, close clung with messages

Messages marking high heaven indeed is for other men

Men unweary, men unlike this troubled troubadour

Troubador troubled by the lonely lowing

Lowing lost kyne cast upon the sundered stones.

Hooray for first post!

Hello! This is Cindy Watkins, known in the SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism) as Talia de Morales, and this is my blog for all my crafty SCA related endeavors.

My main SCA related arts & science interest is bowyery, which is the art of making bows. I prefer making bows out of traditional materials, using traditional techniques whenever possible (and practical.) Fiberglass? *Ptooo!* I spit on fiberglass! Lips that touch fiberglass shall not touch mine, etcetera and so forth. In any case, there should be lots of bow related goodness going up on this page.

I love to cross stitch, and was mistakenly under the impression that it was a modern invention. However, excitingly for me, it seems that cross stitch has been around for quite some time and is “in-period” for the SCA, so that gives me an excuse to post awesome cross stich things. :3 Learning other forms of embroidery is on my bucket list as well. *sighs* So many things to learn, so little time, so many hallucinations if I don’t sleep at least 6 hours a night, so many creditors with big knives coming to cut my hands off if I don’t go to work.

I’m also a poetry enthusiast and write a good bit, though in my own work I tend to stick to free verse and prose poetry. However, I enjoy the occasional challenge of working in the more restrictive environment of traditional verse forms, even though I am terrible at scansion and meter. So the occasional poem will probably be forthcoming. 🙂