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.
admires your poems, rhymes floating boundless and clear. Come here just this once, how is it I’m content in Snow Mountain’s answer? WAR, EXILE, AND LATER YEARS (A.D. 755-762) ON PHOENIX TOWER IN CHIN-LING In its travels, the phoenix stopped at Phoenix Tower, but soon left the tower empty, the river flowing away. Blossoms and grasses burying the paths of a Wu palace, Chin’s capped and robed nobles all ancient gravemounds, the peaks of Triple Mountain float beyond azure heavens, and
Mountain peaks towering inexhaustibly above Pa lands stretching away, limitless. I climb fringes of sunlight, clutching vines, and rest on rocky heights up beyond mist, then race on, soon reaching the cragged summit. There, no haze to the end of sight, I look down cinnabar valleys left behind, then up into azure heaven I’ve come so near, azure heaven— if I could reach it, I could sail away who knows where on the Star River. Gazing at clouds, I know Shun’s ancient tomb, and river thoughts
the government). The speaker here is a soldier. HSIUNG-NU: war-like nomadic peoples occupying vast regions from Mongolia to Central Asia during the Han Dynasty. They were a constant menace on China’s northern frontier. 60 CH’IN: see note for p. 28. 61 SILKWORMS… SLEPT THREE TIMES: Silkworms, which feed on mulberry leaves, go through three or four cycles of feeding and sleeping each spring and summer before spinning their cocoons. 68 HSIEH T’IAO: 5th-century poet remembered for his landscape
SHANG MOUNTAIN, FOUR-RECLUSE PASS Hair white, four old sages cragged high and timeless as South Mountain itself, bitterly sure among cloud and pine: they’re hidden deep, unrecognizable here. Azure sky a cloud-swept window, cliffwalls all kingfisher blue across: dragons and tigers at war in the world still, of themselves, come to rest here. Ch’in losing the Way’s bright mirror, Han ascending into purple heavens: when the sun’s lost in rainbow shadow, North Star following it into obscurity,
come again. SENT TO MY TWO CHILDREN IN SHA-CH’IU Here in Wu, mulberry leaves lush green, silkworms have already slept three times. My family’s stayed behind in Sha-ch’iu, no one to plant Kuei Mountain fields, no one to do spring work, and here I am wandering rivers, more and more dazed. A south wind carries my heart back, its flight coming to rest outside the upstairs drinking-room, where a lone peach stands, branches in leaf sweeping azure mist. I planted it there before leaving them, and