Nov 4, 2010

Famous Poets - Part I

Li Po (701 - 762)



"You ask me why I dwell in the green mountain;
I smile and make no reply for my heart is free of care.
As the peach-blossom flows down stream
and is gone into the unknown,
I have a world apart that is not among men."


Li Po was born in the Szechwan Province in western China. At 19 he left home to live with a religious recluse by the name of Tunyen-tzu. The two of them were said to keep strange birds as pets. He later traveled down the Yangtze to Yun-meng, a town north of the river and Tung-ting Lake, where he married. He lived briefly as a poet at the Tang court in Chang'an before deciding to return to a life of Taoist study and poetry writing.

Around 742 he gained recognition from emperor Hsuan-tsung (Xuan Zong) and was appointed to a post in the Hanlin Academy, but a few years later he was exiled from the capital as a result of slanders. He fled south at the time of the rebellion in 755 and entered the service of Prince Yung. The Prince's downfall involved Li Po in a second exile, though he was eventually pardoned and resumed his life of wandering.

In 756, Li Po became an unofficial poet laureate to Prince Lin. The prince was soon accused of intending to set up an independent kingdom and was executed. Li Po was arrested and imprisoned, but a high official looked into Li Po's case. The official had Li Po released and made him a staff secretary. In the summer of 758, the charges were revived. Li Po was banished to Yeh-lang.

Li Po frequently celebrated the joy of drinking. According to legend, Li Po drowned while drunkenly leaning from a boat to embrace the moon's reflection on the water. Most scholars believe he died from cirrhosis of the liver or from mercury poisoning due to Taoist longevity elixirs.

Much of Li Po's work is lost, but almost 2000 poems were collected in 1080. He’s best known for his pieces describing voyages through imaginary landscapes, preferring older poetic forms such as songs or ballads. Some themes expressed in Li Po's works are the sorrows of those separated by the demands of duty and the relief found in wine. He also wrote about friendship, solitude, the passage of time, and the joys of nature.


Looking For A Monk And Not Finding Him

I took a small path leading
up a hill valley, finding there
a temple, its gate covered
with moss, and in front of
the door but tracks of birds;
in the room of the old monk
no one was living, and I
staring through the window
saw but a hair duster hanging
on the wall, itself covered
with dust; emptily I sighed
thinking to go, but then
turning back several times,
seeing how the mist on
the hills was flying, and then
a light rain fell as if it
were flowers falling from
the sky, making a music of
its own; away in the distance
came the cry of a monkey, and
for me the cares of the world
slipped away, and I was filled
with the beauty around me.

Drinking Alone with the Moon

From a pot of wine among the flowers
I drank alone.There was no one with me --
Till raising my cup, I ask the bright moon
To bring me my shadow and make us three.
Alas, the moon was unable to drink
And my shadow tagged me vacantly;
But still for a while I had these friends
To cheer me through the end of spring....
I sang. The moon encouraged me
I danced. My shadow tumbled after.
As long as I knew, we were born companions.
And then I was drunk, and we lost one another.
....Shall goodwill ever be secure?
I watch the long road of the River of Stars.

The Hard Road

Pure wine costs, for the golden cup, ten thousand coppers a flagon,
And a jade plate of dainty food calls for million coins.
I fling aside my food-sticks and cup, I cannot eat nor drink...
I pull out my dagger, I peer four ways in vain.
I would cross the Yellow River, but ice chokes the ferry;
I would climb the Tai-hang Mountains, but the sky is blind with snow..
I would sit and poise a fishing-pole, lazy by a brook --
But I suddenly dream of riding a boat, sailing for the sun...
Journeying is hard,
Journeying is hard.
There are many turings --
Which am I to follow?...
I will mount a long wind some day and break the heavy waves
And set my cloudy sail straight and bridge the deep, deep sea.

Taking Leave of a Friend

Blue mountains lie beyond the north wall;
Round the city's eastern side flows the white water.
Here we part, friend, once and forever.
You go ten thousand miles, drifting away
Like an unrooted water-grass.
Oh, the floating clouds and the thoughts of a wanderer!
Oh, the sunset and the longing of an old friend!
We ride away from each other, waving our hands,
While our horses neigh softly, softly . . . .

Read more of his work HERE or HERE.

2 comments:

A.Z. Foreman said...

I love him! He is absolutely made of win. It's just a shame he isn't translated better (Though I'm trying to fix that here)

C R Ward said...

It's amazing the way words and meanings can be lost in a translation. I love your translation of Drinking Alone With the Moon much better than the one I found. Thank you so much for sharing!