Poems of the “Banished Immortal”

My own translation of some poems by Li Po, or Li Bai (701 – 762), one of China’s greatest poets.

David Hinton in The Selected Poems of Li Po writes, “He is called the ‘Banished Immortal,’ an exiled spirit moving through this world with an unearthly ease and freedom from attachment. But at the same time, he belongs to the earth in the most profound way . . .”

This is one of his best known poems:

Green Mountain Conversation

If you ask me why I live in these emerald mountains,
with a tranquil mind, I will only smile.
Deep in mystery, peach blossoms move with the flowing stream.
Here is another universe, far beyond the world of people.

The ch-in in this next poem is a stringed instrument like a zither with seven strings.

Poets would chant their poems to the accompaniment of the  ch’in.

Li Po was often inspired by music, and a jug of wine.

Listening to Jun, the Buddhist Monk, Play the Ch’in

The monk from Shu, hugging his green silk, walking westward down lofty Omei Peak:
When he plays, I become one with his waving hand.
Listening, it’s as if ten thousand pines were singing.
My wandering heart is washed clean by his flowing music.
I hear the echo of a temple’s white bells.
When dusk comes, I forget about the blue mountains
and do not take seriously the dark autumn clouds gathering.

The following poem is based on the story of a young wife whose husband left her alone while he lived with his mistress in another town. In Chinese mythology, crows are associated with the sun.

Crows Crying at Twilight

Yellow clouds, and crows near the tower
fly away and then return to sit on the branches and cry caw caw!
The Qin river girl weaves a brocade at a loom; her green yarn is like mist.
When through the window she hears the crying,
she stops her work, disheartened, recalling a faraway person.
She will spend the night in a lonely room, with her tears falling like rain.


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