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Sunday Scribblings #168: Once Upon a Rhyme When Verse Turned to Movie Magic

Hearing the words ‘Once upon a time’ is always magical, isn’t it, conjuring wonderful images of fairy tales and stories and lands far away and of many, many years ago. They also bring back childhood memories for me – of listening to stories from my parents and grandparents, of reading many that began with ‘Once upon a time,’ and of reading them to my own children (so yeah, also childhood memories for my kids!).

But today’s post is taking a detour to ‘once upon a rhyme’ and instead of wondering what I am talking about, read on. It is also magical in its own ways. Words are always magical…

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Notepad and a pen over it with a cup of coffee next to it. words read Sunday Scribblings, and this is for Sunday Scribblings #168: Once Upon a Rhyme When Verse Turned to Movie Magic

Poetic Sundays: Once Upon a Rhyme in Disney’s Mulan

This week, I’m shifting gears a bit from my usual poetry exploration to something different: poetry inspired movie magic! And in particular, I want to shine a spotlight on a single magical movie with roots in poetry – Disney’s Mulan. Why Mulan? Well, there’s a special reason. As we approach the 5th of December, the birthday of the original dreamer himself, Walt Disney, I thought it fitting to pay tribute to his legacy.

The Poetic Origins or Once Upon a Rhyme of Mulan

Mulan, the animated classic (and also the live-action version) we all know and love, is based on an ancient Chinese poem titled “The Ballad of Mulan.” This sixth-century folk song weaves a tale of bravery, sacrifice, and filial piety as a young woman disguises herself as a man to take her father’s place in the army. Disney’s adaptation beautifully captures the essence of this timeless narrative, adding its own enchanting touches while staying true to the spirit of the original poem. So, here’s to Walt Disney, the visionary behind the magic, and to Mulan, a cinematic masterpiece with a poetic heart.

You can read the ballad here. This rhyming translation starts with these beautiful lines (with that feeling of familiar for those who have seen the movie)

Sigh after sigh she sadly sighs
While weaving near the door—
No sound of spinning loom that flies
Just Mulan feeling poor.

More About the Ballad

This ballad does make the ‘once upon a rhyme’ true, for it is the oldest known version of Mulan’s story. Dating back to around 400 AD during the Northern Wei era, this ancient poem has inspired countless retellings across centuries (source).

It uses the Yuefu style, which has its roots in the folk-ballad tradition. The name is derived from the Yuefu (“Music Bureau”) established in 120 BC by Wudi of Han (an organization of the imperial Chinese government responsible for collecting or writing the lyrics). Over time, the term applied to other poems/works inspired by the Music Bureau’s collections.

Writing in the Yuefu Style

If you are inspired by the ballad and want to attempt writing using the yuefu style (not really a poetic form in the strictest sense), then here is me introducing a poetic form/style once again this week after all with the yuefu! These guidelines will help you (inspired by the definition on Britannica):

  • Syllabic: you could either pick a line length of five syllables or have lines of varying length
  • Stanzaic: while I don’t see any place where they mention stanza length, I am just using the most often seen stanza length in ballads (also used in the translated version above) of four lines per stanza. The poem itself can have any number of quatrains as needed.
  • Rhythmic: since most original yuefu were sung to music, try to keep a musical rhythm within your lines, however you choose. Maybe with rhyme schemes (ABAB like in the translated version above) and similar 5 syllable length lines, or when varying lengths, then with other ways to add the rhythm (for example, the translated version above has an 8/6/8/6 syllabic pattern)
  • Experiment with different rhyme schemes to enhance the musicality of your verses.
  • Themed: ballads often tell one story, of heroism, love, or well, your choice!


On My Blog And the Homefront

Here are the posts that made their way out into the world this past week on my blog:


    On My Blog and On the Homefront

    A few posts hopefully and quiet on the homefront this week

    This Week’s Celebrations

    Literary Celebrations (close-to-it also!)

    • Literary birthdays this week include: Rainer Maria Rilke on Dec 4th; Walt Disney, Hanif Kureishi, Christina Rossetti, Joan Didion, and James Lee Burke on Dec 5th; Jason Reynolds, Joyce Kilmer, and Garth Stein on December 6th; Anne Fine, Willa Cather, and Noam Chomsky on 7th December; Horace, Bill Bryson and James Thurber on the 8th of Dec; John Milton and Tishani Doshi on Dec 9th; Cornelia Funke, Emily Dickinson, Mary Norton, Nelly Sachs, and Helen Oyeyemi on the 10th December
    • It is National Crossword Solvers Day on the 7th of December..
    • followed by Christmas Card Day on Dec 9th

    Foodie Celebrations

    Other Observations and Celebrations

    Related Reads and More:

    Wrapping up my Sunday Scribblings Once Upon a Rhyme

    So dear reader, you have reached the end of this Sunday Scribblings! As always, I welcome your thoughts, comments, and suggestions about this post. Have you begun your planning for your holiday season, whatever and however you plan to celebrate? Will you attempt to write the yuefu? Or maybe watch a Disney movie? And do let me know if you plan to celebrate any of these mentioned celebrations this coming week/month?

    Linking this to the Sunday Post over at the Caffeinated Reviewer and the Sunday Salon

    16 thoughts on “Sunday Scribblings #168: Once Upon a Rhyme When Verse Turned to Movie Magic

    1. “Once upon a time”…ballads…fairy tales…folk tales…all of these evoke my childhood in all its positive and amazing delight. I love how you told us a little about the backstory of Mulan. It adds so much to the seeing of the movie.

    2. Thank you for sharing so much information on yuefu as I had not heard of this style. Not sure if I’m advanced enough to try it – but it would be a challenge.

    3. I had no idea Mulan had such deep roots in an ancient Chinese poem. It’s amazing how Disney’s adaptation retained the essence while adding its own touch.

    4. I remember growing up and hearing those words “once upon a time” in many kids and Disney movies. This takes me back to my childhood days for sure. Things were so much easier back then too.

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