The present article explores uses of verse in direct speech attributed to Confucius (551–479 bce) within works compiled mainly during the Han dynasty (206 bce–220 ce). Analysing short prose narratives and dialogues, the article investigates a poeticized debate, in which versified proverbs or apothegms are employed as tools of argumentation. In addition I examine the mnemonic function of reiterated rhymes on politics, and emotive song as an expression of thwarted ambition, purportedly revealing glimpses at Confucius's inner life; and libretto-like records of dramatic encounters whose participants exchange verse. The goal of the investigation is twofold. First, it demonstrates how, in early imperial China, the image of Confucius was remoulded to fulfil different functions and satisfy diverse needs beyond his by now familiar role as philosopher and as patron saint of an intellectual tradition and state ideology. Second, it draws attention to the riches of stylistic nuance and functional variety exhibited by early Chinese writings, which have so far hardly been tapped.