Li Po

The vitality of a giant and the delicacy of a fairy prince. A freedom beyond most imaginations, and a rigorous artistic discipline that is, perhaps, even harder to imagine. No mere man could write so: so he is no man, but the spirit, the earthly presence, of the elemental power that is poetry.  

Li Po - J.P. Seaton

Li Po is the god of poetry. He called himself only the god of wine, and refused on the grounds of his superiority to answer a call from his Emperor. His poetry shows us, almost always, a person who is outside the world we live in, looking even farther outward at things we can’t even imagine. He dances with the moon and his shadow, making a three that’s not a crowd. He meditates upon a mountain (p. 90) until he and the mountain are one. And yet he is the absolute master of the description of human intimacy. It seems almost impossible that the delicate picture of a young love growing into maturity in The Ballad of Ch’ang-kan” should have been written by a swashbuckling drunkard, and no less that that poet should also be in communication with Châ€u Yuan and his Fisherman. It’s more understandable to discover in Drinking with a Hermit Friend in the Mountains” that in a single excellent, immortal quatrain this man has repeated himself three times in a single line, and then stolen a line from a history book hes just been reading (or has memorized) almost word for word! There is, after all, the saying that all poets borrow, great poets steal.

Li Po - David Hinton
During China’s T’ang Dynasty, a man named Li Po is born in the year 701, at the beginning of the great cultural flowering known as the High T’ang. He wanders. The moon beckons from his homeland, dances with his shadow. The river flows on the borders of heaven. He meets Tu Fu in a country wineshop, and they share a few days. Armies burn fields and cities. The T’ang smolders, a fitful ruin. In 762, Li Po’s wandering ends south of the Yangtze River, at someone else’s house, when he falls into a river and drowns trying to embrace the moon. The phenomenon of Li Po moves perpetually beyond the everyday facts which make up a life. He belongs at once to the realm of immortals and to the earth’s process of change, its spontaneous movement beyond itself. But his most enduring work remains 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 trans-formed by winds of the immortals, bones of the Tao.

WAYs – Li Po’s Jade Staircase Lament

WORDs – Li Po’s Looking in the Mirror and Writing What My Heart Finds There

Li Po and Tu Fu

On the mountain: A conversation

you ask
why I perch
on a jade green mountain?
I laugh
but say nothing
my heart
like a peach blossom
in the flowing stream
going by
in the depths
in another world
not among men.

James Cryer

Good Rain: A Night in Spring

The good rain knows its season
Come spring it comes to life again
With the wind, so stealthy in the night
Moistens all things so delicate so silent
On the wild paths clouds all black
lI morning’s glow, the red wet spots
Flowers weigh down upon the Brocade Mandarin.



The Birds Have Vanished into the Sky

The birds have vanished into the sky,
and now the last cloud drains away.
We sit together, the mountain and me,
until only the mountain remains.

Sam Hamill


East Mountain

I love East Mountain’s music.
I could stay a thousand years here or just never leave.
I ‘d wave my dancing sleeve,
and sweep clean the Mountain of the Five Trunked Pine.

J.P. Seaton

Set Piece

silk sandals

Cid Corman  


Drinking with a Friend, among the Mountains

Together, we drink; the mountain flowers open.
A cup, a cup, and one more cup.
Drunk, l’d sleep; you go.
Tomorrow, come again: Do bring your lute.

Francois Cheng


Quiet Night Thoughts

Before my bed
There is bright moonlight
So that it seems
like frost on the ground;
Lifting my head
I watch the bright moon,
Lowering my head
I dream that I’m home.

Arthur Cooper


To Amuse Myself

full of wine
night come
falling blossoms
fill my robe
still drunk
but getting up
I wade
after the moon
in the stream
when the birds have gone
when people
are few

James Cryer


A gift (in jest) – for Tu Fu

Fan Kuo Mountain
Tu Fu
and his sombrero
in the noonday
I asked
Since last
we met
you’ve gotten
It’s the pain
of poetry?

James Cryer>


Taking Leave of a Friend

Blue mountains to the north of the walls,
White river winding about them;
Here we must make separation
And go out through a thousand miles of dead grass.

Mind like a floating wide cloud,
Sunset like the parting of old acquaintances
Who bow over their clasped hands at a distance.
Our horses neigh to each others
as we are departing.

Ezra Pound


Sitting at Reverence Mountain

The flocks have flown high up and gone.
A single cloud fades into emptiness.
In meditation, endlessly, we two:
Then: only the Mountain of Reverence.

J.P. Seaton


Autumn River Song

The moon shimmers in green water.
White herons fly through the moonlight.

The young man hears a girl gathering water-chestnuts:
into the night, singing, they paddle home together.

Sam Hamill


In the Quiet Night

The floor before my bed is bright:
Moonlight – like hoarfrost – in my room.
I lift my head and watch the moon.
I drop my head and think of home.

Vikram Seth


Missing the East Mountains

Its long since Ive gone to the East Mountains.
How many seasons have the tiny roses bloomed?
White clouds-unblown-fall apart.
In whose court has the bright moon dropped?

Tony Barnstone


A Night with a Friend

Dousing clean a thousand old cares,
sticking it out through a hundred pots of wine,
a good night needing the best of conversation,
a brilliant moon that will not let us sleep –
drunk we lie down in empty hills,
heaven and earth our quilt and pillow.

Burton Watson

Ascend the Phoenix Terrace

On the phoenix terrace, phoenix at play.
Phoenix gone; terrace empty; the river flows on alone.
Wu Palace: flowers and weeds bury the dark paths.
Robes and caps of Chin Dynasty have gone into grave mounds.
The Three Mountains half-falling beyond the sky,
White Egret Isle splits the river into two.
Always, floating clouds cover the sun:
No sight of Châ€angan: sorrow, sorrow.

Wai-Lim Yip

Amusing Myself

Facing wine – I dont notice the dusk
Falling flowers cover my robe
Drunkenly I rise, and walk with the moon in the stream
Birds have gone back, and people are few

Charles Egan


We drink

We drink
To each
other Mountain flowers

One cup
leads to

Mind floats
lies by

Go friend


And dont

Your lute

Cid Corman


Coming Down from Southmost Mountain, Stopping for Wine at Husis Mountain Hermitage

At nightfall, coming down from the green mountainside,
the mountain moon was following me home.
I looked back along the path, where I had come,
down a narrow valley dark with trees.
It was there I met you and you led me to your house.
Your boy came out and opened the gate for us;
through green hgmboos, down a dark path,
we walked, creepers catching on our clothes.
As we talked happily, I found the peace I sought,
for a while, pouring for each other your fine wine.
We sang so long the song of Pines in the Wind
that when we finished, few stars remained in the dark sky.
I got drunk that night, and you were happy, too;
for a while, we forgot the world and all its cares.

Geoffrey Waters


A Song of Changan

You came, riding on a bamboo horse,
and played with plums around the railing of the well.
We both lived in Changan village,
two children with no suspicion of each other.
At fourteen, I became your wife;
I was shy, and had not yet smiled at you.
I lowered my head toward the shaded wall;
you called a thousand times, but I never answered.
At fifteen, I first began to smile,
and hoped we would be together, even as dust or ashes
I believed we would never be apart,
so why would I ever need to climb the lookout tower?
When I was sixteen, you went on a long journey,
through Qutang Gorge with its Yanyu rocks,
sharp beneath the high water of the fifth month,
where the sad cries of the apes fill the skies.
By the front gate, your footprints are still there,
but one by one they fill with moss,
moss so deep now, I cant sweep it away,
as leaves fall early in autumn winds.
In the eighth month, butterflies have come;
pairs of them Hutter in our western garden.
Seeing these things makes my heart sad;
I sit, mourning the loss of my youthful beauty.
When, at last, you set out from the Three Gorges,
send a letter ahead to let me know.
I will come to meet you, no matter how far,
even all the way to Long Wind Sands.

Geoffrey Waters

Viewing the Heavenly Gate Mountain

Heaven’s Gate is split in the center as the Chu River cuts through it,
The green water flowing east arrives here in swirls.
On both shores there are green mountains facing each other,
A lonely sail comes forward from where the sun is.

The Shih Ching , usually translated as either The Book of Songs or the Classic of Poetry, is the first great collection of Chinese poetry. Tradition says that it was edited into its present form by the Sage of Sages, Confucius himself. In fact the book was assembled before, during, and after the life of Confucius. Its more than three hundred poems include fragments of works as old as the Shang Dynasty (traditional; dates 1766-1154 BCE) as well as “contemporary” poems from the Chou feudal states written or spoken by both aristocratic court figures and just plain “folks”. A great deal has been said about the origin of many, if not the majority of the poems as oral “folk” art, but it is clear from the artistry of the written language in which they have been handed down that, like the scribes who improved upon the originally oral poetry attributed to “Homer” in the West to create the Iliad and the Odyssey, the people who converted Chou folk songs and court verses into poetry in written Chinese characters clearly thought of themselves as (and were) artists. So the characters used to render simple and direct lyrical utterances of the illiterate peasant folk often honor them with carefully chosen written vocabulary: the heart and soul of folk art remains clearly present, but literary subtleties are introduced. The scribes who created the Shih Ching were poets, not tape recorders. They chose the best of what existed, and they honored it with their own art.

In its present form, the Shih Ching consists of three major sections, the Kuo Feng, or Odes of the States, comprising 160 of the 300 are generally but not always folk songs. The Ya (Elegant Verses) subdivided with no obvious criteria into greater and lesser, include poems 161-265, and the Sung or Temple Odes high ritual songs and bits of dynastic myth, include poems 266-305. The present selection is comes, all but a single longer poem on drinking and its positive and negative consequences from the “Lesser Elegants”, all come from the Kuo Feng Sections.

Knowledge of the Shih Ching poems was a necessity of diplomatic practice around the time of Confucius, when it was a common practice to deliver or at least support the delivery of diplomatic messages among the feudal domains (the “States or Guo of the Guo Feng) by oral presentation of relevant lines from the Classic. From the Han on many of the poems where imbued with very specific allegorical interpretations, but it is clear that later poets, who memorized the book word for word, used it as allusive material in their own poems at least as often for its plain “folk” messages as for its orthodoxly approved allegorical ones.