Reading the following lyric (詞) of Nara Singde (納蘭性德), set to the tune 念奴嬌, where rhyming characters are enclosed in parentheses according to this reference:

怕見人去樓空,柳枝無恙,猶掃窗間(月)。 無分暗香深處住,悔把蘭襟親(結)。 尚暖檀痕,猶寒翠影,觸緒悲(切)。 愁多成病,此愁知向誰(說)。

I am confused about how the rhyme is supposed to work for 說, since it quite clearly (at least to me) has its ordinary meaning "to speak" (shuo1) but seems to be read closer to yue4: and 仄聲. However every reference source I can find, including classical references, indicate that whenever it is read as yue4 it is strictly as an equivalent character to 悅, "to delight in/be delightful" (e.g. 不亦說乎). Its third standard reading - shui4 - doesn't make sense semantically and also fails the rhyme pattern.

My question is - is the reconstructed "old" pronunciation of 說<->"speak" closer to yue4 or anything else that would explain why the rhyme is permissible here? Or, is it "ok" in lyrics to play fast and loose with the pronunciation/semantic rules, so that this character can be pronounced as 悅 but still somehow keep its semantic meaning of shuo1?

More generally, are there any good reference works concerning these technical issues of Chinese poetry/lyric scansion to which a kind friend can direct me?

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    In my dialect 说 as speak is read xue. It's not in the first tone as in Mandarin, instead it's 入声 as in classic Chinese, so it rhymes perfectly. 月 結 切 are all 入声 Dec 20, 2014 at 16:09
  • that is extremely helpful to know- I am totally unfamiliar with dialects. Just out of curiosity, which dialect is it? I wonder if the poet's Manchurian background might have something to do with this as well. Dec 20, 2014 at 16:25
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    Cantonese: 月(jyut6), 結(git3), 切(cit3), 說(syut3) (in LSHK Transcription System)
    – Henry HO
    Dec 21, 2014 at 1:22
  • A variation of 晋语. I believe the rhyming should also work in some other dialects. Chinese Lyric should strictly follow the traditional rhyming devices. I don't think anyone, including Mr. Nara, would use something of his local dialect. Dec 21, 2014 at 3:08
  • Almost all the poems and lyrics have this problem.Because they are written by ancients. We don't know how ancients pronounce it.These rhymes won't always work in our dialect.
    – sfy
    Dec 22, 2014 at 2:54

1 Answer 1


Take a look at this video. This lady tried to use the pronunciation que to rhyme with other e or e endings. It's a lyric by 柳永. The second paragraph goes like this:


Note that it's not exactly "古音". She just sang in Mandarin and borrowed the 说 sound from somewhere else. I don't know where she borrowed it, but it's a bit strange. The rhyme seems to be working in modern 吴语, 粤语 and some other vernaculars, but none of them uses a plosive consonant. IMO if we read in Mandarin and try to rhyme, it's probably best to read it as xue4.

Anyway, mandarin sucks when you try to read classical poems. We can use workarounds for vowels. As for the tones, there is nothing we could do..

词林正韵 is a good starter's book for rhymes in classical poems. It tells you what rhymes with what, but it doesn't tell you how they pronounce.

  • That helps - maybe Dr Kroll's new Classical Chinese dictionary will be useful as well, though I share Mr(?) 3306356's confusion about how to pronounce things like "trhjowngX". Dec 21, 2014 at 13:01

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