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This web site is dedicated to the preservation of the spirit of Tang poetry.

Li Bai and Du Fu

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Read poems by the greatest masters of Tang poetry translated by Lan Hua

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Chen Zi'ang is one of the early masters of Tang poetry. Now you can read some of his poems translated for the first time into English by Lan Hua

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The Life of Li Bai -- from The New History of the Tang Dynasty

Li Bai, styled T’ai-Po, was descended in the ninth generation from the Emperor Hsing-sheng. One of his ancestors was charged with a crime at the end of the Sui dynasty, and the family took refuge in Turkestan. At the beginning of the period Shen-lung, the family returned and settled in Szechwan. At his birth Li Bai’s mother dreamt of the planet Venus and that was how he came by his name.

At ten he had mastered the Book of Odes and Book of History. When he grew up he retired to the Min Mountains, and even when summoned to the provincial examinations he made no response. When Su T’ing became governor of I-chou, he was introduced to Li Bai, and was astonished by him, remarking on his conspicuous natural talents… However, he was interested in politics and fond of fencing, becoming one of those knight-errants who care nothing for wealth and much for almsgiving.

Once he stayed in Shantung with K’ung Ch’ao-fu, Han Chun, P’ei Cheng, Chang Shu-ming and T’ao Mien. They lived on Mount Ch’u Lai and were dead drunk every day. People called them the Six Hermits of the Bamboo Stream.

At the beginning of the T’ien-pao period he went south to Kuei-chi, and became intimate with Wu Yun. Wu Yun was summoned by the Emperor, and Li Bai went with him to Chang-an. Here he visited Ho Chih-chang. When Chih-chang read some of his work, he sighed and said: “You are an exiled fairy.” He told the Emperor, who sent for Li Bai and gave him an audience in the Golden Bells Hall. The poet submitted an essay dealing with current events. The Emperor bestowed food upon him and stirred the soup with his own hand. He ordered that he should be unofficially attached to the Han Lin Academy, but Li Bai went on drinking in the market-place with his boon companions.

Once when the Emperor was sitting in the Pavilion of Aloes Wood, he had a sudden stirring of heart, and wanted Li Bai to write a song expressive of his mood. When Li Bai entered in obedience to the summons, he was so drunk that the couriers were obliged to dab his face with water. When he had recovered a little, he seized a brush and without any effort wrote a composition of flawless grace.

The Emperor was so pleased with Li Bai’s talent that whenever he was feasting or drinking he always had this poet to wait upon him. Once when Li Bai was drunk the Emperor ordered the eunuch Kao Li-shih to take off Li Bai’s shoes. Li-shih, who thought such a task beneath him, took reventg by affecting to discover in one of Li Bai’s poems a veiled attack on the Emperor’s mistress, Yang Kuei-fei.

Whenever the Emperor thought of giving the poet some official rank, Kuei-fei intervened and dissuaded him.

Li Bai himself, soon realizing that he was unsuited to Court life, allowed his conduct to become more and more reckless and unrestrained. Together with his friends Ho Chih-chang, Li Shih-chih, Chin, Prince of Ju-yang, Ts’ui Tsung-chih, Su Chin, Chang Hsu and Chiao Sui, he formed the association known as the Eight Immortals of the Winecup.

He begged persistently to be allowed to retire from Court. At last the Emperor gave him gold and sent him away. Li Bai roamed the country in every direction. Once he went by boat with Ts’ui tsung-chih from Pien-shih to Nanking. He wore his embroidered Court cloak and sat as proudly in the boat as though he were king of the universe.

Selection of poems by Li Bai

The poet Li BaiLi Bai wrote many poems, more than 1,000 of which have been passed down to us today. Here are translations of some of Lan Hua's personal favorites: