in Chinese poetry, song form characterized by lines of unequal length with prescribed rhyme schemes and tonal patterns, each bearing the name of a musical air. The varying line lengths are comparable to the natural rhythm of speech and therefore are easily understood when sung. First sung by ordinary people, they were popularized by professional women singers and attracted the attention of poets during the Tang dynasty (618-907). It was not, however, until the transitional period of the Five Dynasties (907-960), a time of division and strife, that ci became a major vehicle for lyrical expression. Of ci poets in this period, the greatest was Li Yu, last monarch of the Nan Tang (Southern Tang) dynasty. The ci served as the predominant form for verse of the Song dynasty (960-1279).
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