The poem that eats the lion (and the poet altogether)

The mastermind behind the age-old confusion.


Literature has never ceased capturing our imagination; even so boldly challenged has been our vernacular improbability. But what can be more compelling, and inextricably complicating, than Chinese literature, one whose lingua franca is very well-known for a mecca of homophones? Zhao Yuanren (1892-1982), a Chinese-American poet, attempted to break off the limits (and our conscience limits, altogether, when it comes to defining the riddle) by composing a seemingly ‘Google-translated’ one titled ‘Lion-Eating Poet in the Stone Den’, or if read in Chinese, would be spelt equivocally similar ‘Shi shi shi shi shi’. Enough conundrum has been generated by the way it’s read, and what else couldn’t be more exasperatingly comprehensive than interpreting the ‘inherent meaning’ behind the soul of the poem? Like a finely sauteed piece of half-cooked salmon, welcome to one of the most enigmatic, but also mindfully engrossing, poems in the age of modern literature. (this poem was published in 1977)


« Shī Shì shí shī shǐ »

Shíshì shīshì Shī Shì, shì shī, shì shí shí shī.

Shì shíshí shì shì shì shī.

Shí shí, shì shí shī shì shì.

Shì shí, shì Shī Shì shì shì.

Shì shì shì shí shī, shì shǐ shì, shǐ shì shí shī shìshì.

Shì shí shì shí shī shī, shì shíshì.

Shíshì shī, Shì shǐ shì shì shíshì.

Shíshì shì, Shì shǐ shì shí shì shí shī.

Shí shí, shǐ shí shì shí shī shī, shí shí shí shī shī.

Shì shì shì shì.
















« Lion-Eating Poet in the Stone Den »


In a stone den was a poet called Shi, who was a lion addict, and had resolved to eat ten lions.

He often went to the market to look for lions.

At ten o’clock, ten lions had just arrived at the market.

At that time, Shi had just arrived at the market.

He saw those ten lions, and using his trusty arrows, caused the ten lions to die.

He brought the corpses of the ten lions to the stone den.

The stone den was damp. He asked his servants to wipe it.

After the stone den was wiped, he tried to eat those ten lions.

When he ate, he realized that these ten lions were in fact ten stone lion corpses.

Try to explain this matter.


Eat me!


A blogger formulates several possible interpretations to let us comprehend further what the poet was trying to convey in the poet. Click:


2 thoughts on “The poem that eats the lion (and the poet altogether)

  1. Hans K.C., Appreciate you posting the link on my article. For any of your readers interested in more details on this strange saga, I’ve posted the full essay (rough and incomplete, though) on my notes page at . If any of you have interest in helping with the next step towards getting Zhao’s and his work included in the literature of poetics, I invite you to message me to see what might be done (my own skill-set is rather limited, but I would certainly like to see the case pressed if it has merit).

    For Hans K.C. – I note you cite the publication of “Shi” from 1977. Rogers (2004) does mention that the work had its first public reading in Toronto about 1970. I have also found some uncited references that Zhao may have been working on drafts of “Shi” as early as 1934, when he was working on developing a CL system of his own for translating classical texts, in opposition to the deficiencies of the official systems being promoted at that time. If that is the case, the “Shi” may also be one of the earliest extant examples we have of Language Poetry, predating the genre by nearly 50 years. Wondering if you have any further details on when he might have originally begun work on “Shi”?

    • Thanks before, Red. For further communication efforts, maybe you could simply friend me in Facebook (just type down, and you’ll get ‘Kevin Chandra’). Regarding the original work of ‘Shi’, I simply know that the poet published it somewhere in 1977. He was a linguist, anyway, and I thought he’s making that only to showcase his linguistic ability, or vice versa. Your guess is as good as mine. Thanks before!

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