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The poem A Chinese Sage by Elizabeth Jennings features a wise man who writes poems. He takes them to a peasant woman and reads them to her, crossing out any words that she does not understand.

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Commentary on "A Chinese Sage" The poem "A Chinese Sage" by Elizabeth Jennings features a wise man who writes poems. He takes them to a peasant woman and reads them to her, crossing out any words that she does not understand. The title, "A Chinese Sage" suggests that the setting of the poem is in China and so the name of the sage may be foreign to a westerner. The poem mainly deals with the difference between the lives of the rich and the poor as well as the search for simplicity and its ideas are conveyed through contrast, language and structure. The poem contrasts the luxurious life of a poet with the simple and difficult life of a peasant not only in The East, but also The West. The poem refers to the era of Charlemagne's reign as evident in line 22 "writing in the reign of Charlemagne", which was between the years 742 to 841. At that time, peasants both men and women, had to work all day in service of the king. While the men ploughed, the women worked in the fields, looked after poultry, or sewed at home, working just as hard as the men in the fields. ...read more.


If the Chinese Sage could make a poem that can be read throughout the society, he at least has tried to make a connection between the societies, so that others may want to follow his lead. Similar to European nobles, Chinese upper-class society enjoyed the luxuries brought by international trade and were exposed to the arts through the Silk Road. Although the Tang Dynasty focus was on writing perfect poems to show off to others, many lower- class people "had no dealings...with poetry, art of any kind," (12-13) demonstrating the large gap between the two classes. The poet wants to prove that although the European and Chinese culture may have never encountered one another, they faced the same problems in which there is always a lower-class while others enjoy the luxuries of the upper-class. The deeper meaning of this poem can be explored by examining the language used in the poem as well as some historical background. The poem was written in 1975 during the Cultural Revolution. The Cultural Revolution in China was aimed to remove the four olds: old customs, old cultures, old habits and old ideas. ...read more.


A peasant woman has been chosen specifically by the Chinese Sage because women tend to be more elaborate and gentle. Thought she may be a farmer, she would nonetheless have the patience to detect all of the "words that [are] foreign to her" (10). In contrast, a wealthy woman would not be able to achieve the same effect as she may know all of the characters. Every society has its own definition of the rich and the poor but in the end, we, like the Chinese Sage, inevitably go to the poor to help solve "obscurities" (15). In conclusion, the poet has effectively used contrast, language and structure to mark the differences between high and low-class societies around the world. Though the poem may reflect to a past time, the same things can be seen in the present society. The rich and the poor can be spotted today by new terms such as "third world" and "developed". History serves as a reminder to us that we need to rely on the peasants no matter how hard we try to avoid and ignore them. Essentially, we all have nothing and when things become too complicated, it is sometimes best to simply go back and live a peasant life, living happily and peacefully. ...read more.

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