Minnesota Couch Warmer’s Guide to China, Part 4: I Wanna Party With This Guy!

 

Li Bo (aka Li Bai)

Li Bo (aka Li Bai)

Li Bo

Li Bo (a.k.a. Li Bai), was a Chinese poet who lived in the 700s, during the Tang Dynasty. Spanning the years 618-907 A.D, the Tang Dynasty is known as the Golden Age of Chinese culture. During this era, poetry flourished; Tang poets are among the most revered figures of Chinese literature.

I don’t know about you, but when I read terms like “Golden Age of Poetry,” “Tang Dynasty,” and so forth, it all sounds rather stuffy and forbidding, like starched silk (if there is such a thing).  I assumed the poetry would be highly formal and concerned with paying the proper respects to one’s elders and correctly using chopsticks at the dinner table.

Therefore, I was pleasantly surprised to discover how fresh and modern Li Bo’s poems seem to me. (One reason they seem modern is because they influenced Anglo-American literary modernism via Ezra Pound, but that’s another story.)

Far from being a stuffed-shirt, Li Bo was known as a free-spirit who wrote poems in praise of wine and nudity. He reminds me a little bit of Walt Whitman in his free-spiritedness, although his style is much more imagistic and controlled.

Li Bo played up his “fun party guy” image because it helped him professionally. According to Stephen Owen, a specialist in Chinese literature, the powerful people of the Tang Dynasty liked having a few free-spirited poetic types around to liven up their parties. Owen notes that “It was considered sort of nice to have one [a wild and free poet]. They entertained you.” Asian Topics: An Online Resource for Asian History and Culture.

Who knew a person could make a living cavorting drunkenly in front of the moon for the ruling class?  I wonder if Obama would hire me for such a position….

In any case, here are a few of Li Bo’s poems for you to enjoy.  Let me know what you think!

Poems by Li Bo (aka Li Bai)

Summer Day in the Mountains

Lazily waving a fan of white feathers,
stripped naked here in the green woods.
I take off my headband hang it on a cliff
my bare head splattered by winds through pines.

Amusing Myself

Facing my wine, I did not see the dusk,
Falling blossoms have filled the folds of my clothes.
Drunk, I rise and approach the moon in the stream,
Birds are far off, people too are few.

Autumn Air

The autumn air is clear,
The autumn moon is bright.
Fallen leaves gather and scatter,
The jackdaw perches and starts anew.
We think of each other- when will we meet?
This hour, this night, my feelings are hard.

Drinking Alone under the Moon

Among the flowers, a single jug of wine;
I drink alone. No one close to me.
I raise my cup, invite the bright moon;
facing my shadow, together we make three.
The moon doesn’t know how to drink;
and my shadow can only follow my body.
But for a time I make moon and shadow my companions;
taking one’s pleasure must last until spring.
I sing — the moon wavers back and forth.
I dance — my shadow flickers and scatters.
When I’m sober we take pleasure together.
When I’m drunk, we each go our own ways.
I make an oath to journey forever free of feelings,
making an appointment with them to meet in the Milky Way afar.

[Translation by Paul Rouzer]

Advertisements

5 thoughts on “Minnesota Couch Warmer’s Guide to China, Part 4: I Wanna Party With This Guy!

  1. Li Bo’s poetry does sound familiar and “Anglo-American Ezra Pound”! Do you teach that course?
    Your portrayal of the man and his time is enchanting. Could “Drinking Alone Under the Moon” have been the inspiration for Cat Stevens (whom I saw in person), British, convert to Islam in 1977, aka Yusuf Islam, and his Moonshadow lyrics? ” Oh, I’m bein’ followed by a moonshadow, moonshadow, moonshadow, Leapin and hoppin’ on a moonshadow, moonshadow, moonshadow,

    And if I ever lose my hands, lose my plough, lose my land,
    Oh if I ever lose my hands, Oh if… I won’t have to work no more.
    And if I ever lose my eyes, if my colours all run dry,
    Yes if I ever lose my eyes, Oh if… I won’t have to cry no more.

    Yes I’m bein’ followed by a moonshadow, moonshadow, moonshadow
    Leapin’ and hoppin’ on a moonshadow, moonshadow, moonshadow

    And if I ever lose my legs, I won’t moan, and I won’t beg,
    Yes if I ever lose my legs, Oh if… I won’t have to walk no more.
    And if I ever lose my mouth, all my teeth, north and south,
    Yes if I ever lose my mouth, Oh if… I won’t have to talk…

    Did it take long to find me? I asked the faithful light.
    Did it take long to find me? And are you gonna stay the night?

    I’m bein’ followed by a moonshadow, moonshadow, moonshadow
    Leapin’ and hoppin’ on a moonshadow, moonshadow, moonshadow
    Moonshadow, moonshadow, moonshadow, moonshadow.”

    Paul Rouzer’s translation of the last line, ‘meet in the Milky Way afar,’ hits me rather asynchronously, since Li Bo wrote in 700 BC. Further research tells us that the Chinese called our galaxy the ‘Silver River’.

    http://www.todayifoundout.com/index.php/2013/08/how-the-milky-way-got-its-name-and-what-its-called-in-other-languages/

    Thanks again for inspiration and motivation to learn and think.

    • Great question about Cat Stevens! I have no idea what inspired him, but I think you should write a blog post claiming he was inspired by Li Bo and see if the idea takes off. 🙂

    • Barbara: I was curious about your point about the Milky Way. Alas, I do not know Chinese, so I can’t translate it myself, but this is what one website has as the literal, word-for-word translation. It too uses the term “Milky Way.”
      • Perfectly literal, word-for-word translation

      flowers among one jar liquor
      alone carouse without mutual intimate

      raise cup greet bright moon
      facing shadow become three persons

      moon since not free to-drink
      shadow follow accompany my body

      briefly accompany moon with shadow
      go happy should avail-oneself-of spring

      my song moon walk-to-and-fro irresolute
      my dance shadow fragments disorderly

      sober time together mix glad
      drunk after each divide scatter

      eternal connect without consciouness-of-self roam
      mutual appointment remote cloud Milky-Way

      http://www.johnderbyshire.com/Readings/yuexiaduzhuo.html

      Interesting question!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s