Study Guide

A Poem of Changgan Sound Check

By Li Po (also known as Li Bai)

Sound Check

Thanks to its free verse form (check out "Form and Meter" for more), this poem sounds very conversational—and we mean very. There's no regular meter, no rhyme, and, to top it all off, the speaker's vocabulary is also pretty simple. So this poem sounds very much as if we're eavesdropping on the speaker talking to her husband, whom she addresses even though he's not there. In other words, it doesn't sound like a poem in the conventional sense we're used to. Let's take a few lines from the third stanza as an example:

Your footprints by our door, where I had watched you go,
Were hidden, every one of them, under green moss,
Hidden under moss too deep to sweep away

If we read these lines out loud, we'll notice that it's as if we're reading prose, not poetry. There are no clear stress patterns on the syllables, and of course no rhyme scheme.

That said, there are still some rhythms that we can find here. For instance, words like "deep" and "sweep" echo each other with their long E sounds. That's called assonance. And back in the very first line, as we pointed out in the "Detailed Summary," we had three H words in a row: "hair had hardly." That technique is called alliteration. So, even though the tone of this poem sounds very conversational, we still get occasional reminders that language—even in translation—is an important part of understanding this speaker's experience. Like the babbling of that that whirling water, sound echoes pop up throughout—if we listen hard enough.

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