The Selected Poems of Li Po
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Li Po (A.D., 701-762) lived in T’ang Dynasty China, but his influence has spanned the centuries: the pure lyricism of his poems has awed readers in China and Japan for over a millennium, and through Ezra Pound’s translations, Li Po became central to the modernist revolution in the West. His work is suffused with Taoism and Ch’an (Zen) Buddhism, but these seem not so much spiritual influences as the inborn form of his life.
There is a set-phrase in Chinese referring to the phenomenon of Li Po: “Winds of the immortals, bones of the Tao.” He moved through this world with an unearthly freedom from attachment, and at the same time belonged profoundly to the earth and its process of change. However ethereal in spirit, his poems remain grounded in the everyday experience we all share. He wrote 1200 years ago, half a world away, but in his poems we see our world transformed. Legendary friends in eighth-century T’ang China, Li Po and Tu Fu are traditionally celebrated as the two greatest poets in the Chinese canon. David Hinton’s translation of Li Po’s poems is no less an achievement than his critically acclaimed The Selected Poems of Tu Fu, also published by New Directions. By reflecting the ambiguity and density of the original, Hinton continues to create compelling English poems that alter our conception of Chinese poetry.
the east, is perhaps the most revered of these mountains, and its summit the destination of many pilgrims. The T’ai Mountain complex includes many lower ridges and summits, one of which is Heaven’s Gate. 41 Li Po’s way of life often led him to inns and winehouses where courtesans entertained guests with a popular song-form called tz’u. Probably imported from Li Po’s native central Asia, tz’u had been considered unfit for serious poets. Not surprisingly, Li Po was the first major poet to ignore
managed to keep only a few hundred of the several thousand poems he’d written, and these were in turn soon lost. Another collection, of unknown origin, was discovered and edited by Li Po’s friend, Wei Hao, but it too was lost. Little is known about the history of these texts, or what transformations they underwent, until they were combined in a printed edition hundreds of years later. Meanwhile, poems and manuscripts scattered around the country were collected and edited, and many of them were
on laughter and easy talk, blue-lotus roofs. Timeless longing breaks free in a wandering glance. WRITTEN WHILE WANDERING THE WHITE RIVER IN NAN-YANG, AFTER CLIMBING ONTO THE ROCKS Morning up near White River origins, and suddenly that human world’s gone: islands all ends-of-the-earth beauty, river and sky a vast vacant clarity. Ocean clouds leave the eye’s farewell, and the mind idle, river fish wander. Chanting, I linger out a setting sun, then return moonlit to a farmland hut. WANDERING
And yet, boundless, I can dwindle time and space away, losing the world in such distances! CH’ANG-AN AND MIDDLE YEARS (A.D. 742-755) CH’ING P’ING LYRICS Waking in the gallery at dawn, and told it’s snowing, I raise the blinds and gaze into pure good fortune. Courtyard steps a bright mirage of distance, kitchen smoke trails light through flurried skies, and the cold hangs jewels among whitened grasses. Must be heaven’s immortals in a drunken frenzy, grabbing cloud and grinding it into
Ch’ang-an, crickets where the well mirrors year-end golds cry out autumn, and under a thin frost, mats look cold, ice-cold. My lone lamp dark, thoughts thickening, I raise blinds and gaze at the moon. It renders the deepest lament empty. But you’re lovely as a blossom born of cloud, skies opening away all bottomless azure above, clear water all billows and swelling waves below. Skies endless for a spirit in sad flight, the road over hard passes sheer distance, I’ll never reach you, even in