Green mountains bar the northern sky;
White water girds the eastern town.
Here is the place to say goodbye;
You’ll drift like lonely thistledown.
300 Gems of Classical Chinese Poetry, trans. Xu Yuanchong (the Chinese-English Edition with Chinese Phonetic Symbols; Beijing: Peking University Press, 2004)
Li Bai is sometimes known as Li Bo. He was a Chinese poet, praised during his own time and through to present day for his contributions to romantic writing. He worked closely with another poet, Du Fu, and between the two of them they were thought to be key contributors to what has since become known as The Golden Age of Chinese Poetry.
There are approximately one thousand poems that are still in existence, in one form or another, that have been attributed to Li Bai. In the 18th century, when Li Bai’s work was collected as part of the anthology Three Hundread Tang Poems (which was put together in 753 by Yin Fan), his work also started to appear in other languages. It is a commonly held belief that the ideas and ideals expressed in Li Bai’s work, dealing with topics such as friendship and grief, could be both a source of education and comfort to readers and writers alike from other language bases.
Much of Li Bai’s life is reflected through his work, including places that he visited and friendships of his that have been documented in various biographical studies of the poet. He lived in a time, and under a ruler, where the arts were appreciated and celebrated. However, when China became impacted by acts of war, Li Bai’s poetry took a change in tone and perspective that reflected the change in the social climate. There would come a point where arts were not as highly valued as they once had been, but Li Bai did not live to see this shift in appreciation.
In celebration of world poetry, we highly recommend spending some time with Li Bai’s work this week.