The autumn leaves are falling like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are always two cups at my table.

T’ang Dynasty poem

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~


Thursday, July 28, 2005

Li Po


The idea for this post came to me by way of my nostalgia for the poets of the old Tao-l list, who are scattered to the wind. Enjoy guys, wherever you are.

If the Tang Dynasty was the Golden Age of Chinese Poetry, many consider Li Po to be the Mozart of that poetry. Like Mozart, Li Po would dash off one of his poems in a single draft, and often drunk at that.

He was from a wealthy family, which allowed him to travel China behaving in a manner exactly the opposite of a well bred Confucian gentleman of the time.

About 1000 of his poems exist. Many in the famous anthology "300 Tang Dynasty Poems" (http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/chinese/frame.htm ) are his.

Like Mozart, Li Po found no restriction in using the conventional forms of his time. For him they were not a cage to work within, but rather a point of departure.

Among his most famous, ''Changgan xing'' translated by Ezra Pound as THE RIVER-MERCHANT'S WIFE: A LETTER

While my hair was still cut straight across my forehead
I played about the front gate, pulling flowers
You came by on bamboo stilts, playing horse,
You walked about my seat, playing with blue plums
And we went on living in the village of Chokan:
Two small people, without dislike or suspicion.

At fourteen I married My Lord you.
I never laughed, being bashful.
Lowering my head, I looked at the wall.
Called to, a thousand times, I never looked back.

At fifteen I stopped scowling,
I desired my dust to be mingled with yours
Forever and forever, and forever.
Why should I climb the look out?

At sixteen you departed,
You went into far Ku-to-Yen, by the river of swirling eddies,
And you have been gone five months.
The monkeys make sorrowful noise overhead.

You dragged your feet when you went out.
By the gate now, the moss is grown, the different mosses,
Too deep to clear them away!

The leaves fall early this autumn, in wind.
The paired butterflies are already yellow with August
Over the grass in the West garden,
They hurt me.
I grow older,
If you are coming down through the narrows of the river Kiang,
Please let me know beforehand,
And I will come out to meet you,
As far as Cho-fu-Sa.

Twice he was exiled for being mixed up with some small time revolutionary plots, and twice he was forgiven by the Emperor.

No one is sure how Li Po died. One popular story is that while on a small boat at night while drunk, he reached to embrace a reflection of the moon, fell in, and drowned. Others think that he took Daoist elixrs in the hope of immortaility, which eventually poisoned him.

The exirls may not have given him immortality, but his poetry sure did.

Drinking Alone Under The Moon
Among the flowers from a pot of wine
I drink alone beneath the bright moonshine.
I raise my cup to invite the moon, who blends
Her light with my shadow and we're three friends.
The moon does not know how to drink her share;
In vain my shadow follows me here and there.
Together with them for the time I stay
And make merry before spring's spend away.
I sing the moon to linger with my song;
My shadow disperses as I dance along.
Sober, we three remain cheerful and gay;
Drunken, we part and each goes his way.
Our friendship will outshine all earthly love;
Next time we'll meet beyond the stars above.

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