July Challenge: Antithetical Couplet

Hello, friends. If you haven’t heard yet, everyone is welcome to join our tandem poetry challenge at Jilly’s July Challenge. Just pop in, read up the rules and start right away! And if you’re culturally adventurous, you might like to pick up my dare on this post.

For centuries, antithetical couplets have adorned landmarks, garden pavilions, temples, houses and workplaces, either as permanent installations or calligraphically lettered Fai Chun renewed at every Chinese New Year. With the form’s widespread usage, duelling couplets has unsurprisingly been a traditional pastime amongst literate Chinese. And, if Chang Jian and Zhao Gu did collaborate, as in the story of “Casting Bricks to Attract Jade” (see Jilly’s post), which by the way was quite likely a myth (sorry!) … but, if they did collaborate … the poetic medium could very possibly be an antithetical couplet.

Defining Features (the Rules):

  1. Matching Length:
    While there’s liberty in determining the length of a couplet, the two lines must share the same syllabic length. (In Chinese, all words are monosyllabic.)
  2. Connotation Pairing:
    The two lines must echo or complete each other in connotation.
  3. Matching Prosody:
    The tonal pattern of one line has to be the yin-yang inverse of the other. This is a purely Chinese prosodic feature, whereas the western equivalence is the metre.
  4. Lexical Pairing:
    Each word (or each short phrase denoting a meaning) is expected to share the same lexical category as its counterpart on the opposite line, either in contrast or in parallel.
  5. Phrasal Adoption:
    Borrowing from classical sources and traditional idioms is celebrated, especially in philosophical, non-festive couplets.

For the dare, I’ll ask you to match my offer to form an antithetical couplet using the above rules … in English! While Rule 1 and 2 are non-negotiable, due to the different linguistics, we’ll substitute Rule 3 with the requirement of a matching metre. Slight bending on Rule 4 should be permissible too, since word order and grammar are more restricted in English. As for Rule 5, the references don’t have to be Chinese in origin – feel free to think outside the box!

Let me use the couplet from Taiyuan’s Nanlao Fountain as an example.

2017.07.03 JJC Challenge 1b 2017.07.03 JJC Challenge 1a

Photo Courtesy: blog.sina.com.cn/s/blog_741abae00102wgdk.html

Original Script:

My Translation:
Day and night, irrespectively so,
Sky and earth both connectively flow.

Note how “day and night”, or “time”, is in lexical contrast with “sky and earth”, the “cosmos”. The first line, “晝夜不舍”, was a quote from Confucius’ Analects, whereas the second line, “天地同流”, was from the Book of Mencius. Also, in my translation, I maintained a cretic and two anapests for each line: DUM-da-DUM, da-da-DUM, da-da-DUM. That’s the farthest prosody needs to go; don’t worry about rhyming – it’s just me!

Note: Chinese couplets, due to the inverse of tones, naturally do not rhyme at all.

Now, are you ready? This is my offer:


The joy of the fish whosoever would know


Tip: In order to match it, you may want to look up The Debate on the Joy of Fish by Zhuangzi.

I look forward to hearing from you and hope you’ll find this challenge enjoyable! Don’t be deterred because someone else has attempted to match: couplet duels often receive multiple offers – that’s part of the fun. Cheers!

Updates – endeavours posted so far:

  1. Antithetical Couplet – Charley
  2. East Meets West Antithetically – Jilly
  3. Antithetical Couplets & My Two Hours Insanity – Jeren Nazuto
  4. July Challenge – Anathema Couplet – qbit
  5. Antithetical Redux – Charley (2)

Go on, pop in, be inspired, and support their pluck with a comment or two!

p.s. Upon the insistence of a friend, I’m going to dare my own dare, though inadvertently ditching the philosophics as a fishy poet tends to be:

The joy of the fish whosoever would know
The crunch from whose chips would his mouth never loathe



Colin Lee


Feature Photo Courtesy: alphacoders.com

37 thoughts on “July Challenge: Antithetical Couplet

Add yours

    1. Thank you for trying, Victoria. There is no right or wrong to it. Only the first two rules are must; the rest are often bent, even with the ease in Chinese linguistics. I’m really unsure how this will work out in English, which makes it all the more exciting. Kudos to you for being a good sport! Please know that while I anticipate your take with utmost eagerness, feel free to take your time, and enjoy yourself! 🙂

      p.s. My Gmail is blocked while in the country. I won’t be able to check it until the end of tomorrow. 😦

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I was hoping you would teach this! Before I give it a try, there is a good night’s sleep ahead of me, and at least 2 cups of coffee in the morning! Looking forward to diving in.
    (As for the story about Chang Jian and Zhao Gu, it is a delightful story wheher myth or not. Most of these things are mostly fiction, but still fun!)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sure, Jilly, take your time! Thank you again for hosting. You deserve many sweet dreams. I guess this somewhat gives us a taste of the intense responsibility our dVerse bartenders shoulder every week, regarding the scripting of prompts, the logistics and the friendly follow-ups. (And, goodness me, how we miss Mr Linky!) Anyway, take it slow and easy, my friend. After all, this is summer … and we’re still only on the first week of July!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I took a look at having the linky plug-in and came away thinking I have to have a paid version of WordPress, but I’m not sure. I do have a tremendous gratitude to our bar tending team; Bjorn’s comments last week about the importance of silence makes more sense now. They work very hard for us.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Sorry it took me a while to get to the computer. Thank you for volunteering as my guinea pig to this poetic experiment! Interesting take!

      Disclaimer: I’m not erudite at all on this craft. 🙂
      Somewhat like writing English haiku, as we imitate some original qualities of the form, we are bound by the linguistic differences to add our own touch — like fusion food. The product is different, sometimes unorthodox, but that’s how new ideas are sparked. With that said, I can share with you from our cultural perspective, but please take the balance between conformity and self-expression in your own hand; after all, we’re experimenting with a fusion craft here, which I haven’t seen it done before. (Even if it’s tried, it must be rare.)

      Again, there’s no right or wrong, as long as the length is matched and the combined connotation is complete. Chinese couplets, due to the inverse of tones, naturally do not rhyme at all. I would say creating a sense of prosodic matching is a key enjoyment in our reading of couplets, thus my suggestion of keeping the metre since the concept of counter-tones become inapplicable. Therefore, if it helps at all, maybe we can forgo the rhyme … say, moving “soul” ahead to form “food for the soul”? Just a thought … 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This was really tough and I like the struggles of learning something new. Here was how my logic went:
    ‘Whosoever’ is a key word. Your line means that the person who knows the joy that the fish knows… So I asked myself, what IS the joy that the fish knows? Answer: to be connected to the water. So, here is my response:

    “The joy of the fish whosoever would know

    The tides of the ocean would over him flow”

    I saw the possible double meaning in tides flowing; they flow over you/above you, and you are untouched OR they knock you down with their power. If I am on track, I will post it. If I need some redirection, please help me see what I am missing. I would very much like to grasp this!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Nice, Jilly! The way you matched it is quite Chinesey. So, you’re saying one who connects to the water and embraces the freedom in it would naturally understand the joy of the fish. At the metaphysical level, as the questioner accentuates the great divide in knowing, you nevertheless point out that if we submerge ourselves into the ocean, that great flow of cosmic conscious (the Tao?), in which we share with the fish, we’ll then realise its joy. That’s profound! (Correct me if I’m wrong … this is just me trying to read the Chinese in your English!)

      The word pairing … “joy” vs “tides”; “fish” vs “ocean”; “whosoever would” vs “would over him”; “know” vs “flow”. Meticulous. The metre, spot on. And the rhyme, a bonus. The connotation, complete.

      Thank you for sharing, Jill. I’m profoundly inspired.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Like a newbord colt, unsteady on my legs but longing to run. You are a gentle teacher. As I read your words my mind agrees but my heart wants to just feel the ‘rightness’ of Antithetical Couplets. I am going to create a post – may I have your permission to add your comments here to that post?

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I ain’t no teacher in this. We’re only experimenting together — you guys volunteering as guinea pigs and me watching on with popcorn! It’s fascinating to see how each of you approached the challenge with some sort of east-meets-west chemistry and fireworks. Cheers!

        Oh! That’ll be my honour to be useful in any way, Jilly.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Pass the popcorn, please! So, my challenge back to you is for you to complete your own challenge to help us see it in action. I would love for you to challenge me with new lines; I want to understand and grow in my abilities. (Posting momentarily!)

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Frankly, it’ll be a real challenge to stay original after seeing your great takes. If I had to scribble it out, I might be haunted by a guilty conscience afterwards. Happy to be a brick-thrower this round. And happy to throw more bricks when needed. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  3. The irony is strong in this young Jedi poet! A great laugh to go with my 2nd cup of coffee and permission to leave the serious & philisophical path and play, as I am often wont to do. I have been musing on the cleverness of your cat picture, your blog title and the fact that you chose such a fishy line. “The joy of the fish whosoever would know / catching out his human-net for a pescetarian po (et).” I know if doesn’t fit any of the rules, but there it is 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. No, Charley, you aren’t a rebel; you’re an extremist! (Please consider this a compliment.) Anyone wishing to get blissfully giddy (drug-free) should jump right into your fishy pond now!

      Liked by 1 person

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