Friday, January 22, 2016

thinking of Li Bai at the edge of the sky

thinking of Li Bai at the edge of the sky

cold winds arise here at the edge of the sky;
noble friend, what news do you have to send me?

will the swan geese return in their season?
rivers & lakes swell now with the autumn rains

poetry detests the life of attainment,
& demons take their delight in those who stray

you should speak with that other wronged poet’s ghost,
cast a poem as offering into the Miluo 

based on Du Fu: 天末懷李白
tiān mò huái lĭ bái

Note: The poem is of course addressed to Du Fu’s great contemporary, Li Bai, who had been exiled (& narrowly escaped a death sentence) as a result of the turmoil caused by the An Lushan rebellion; this upheaval also had displaced Du Fu to the southern edge of the empire.

Additionally, the “other wronged poet” referred to in the final couplet is Qu Yuan, a poet from the “Warring States” period who lived during the late 4th & early 3rd centuries BCE. Like Li Bai, Qu Yuan was exiled during a period of turmoil, & finally committed ritual suicide by throwing himself into the Miluo River in Hunan province. Qu Yuan is an important mytho-historical figure, & indeed, the Dragon Boat Festival is held to commemorate him. See also the reference to Qu Yuan in Du Fu’s “deep winter”.

Image links to its source on Wiki Commons:

Painting (cropped) of the ancient Chinese poet Qu Yuan by the late Ming era painter Chen Hongshou.  c. 1598-1652
Public domain

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