Drinking In the East
CH’ING P’ING LYRICS
Waking in the gallery
at dawn, and told it’s snowing,
I raise the blinds and gaze into pure good fortune. Courtyard steps a bright mirage of distance,
kitchen smoke trails light through flurried skies, and the cold hangs jewels among whitened grasses.
Must be heaven’s immortals in a drunken frenzy
grabbing cloud and grinding it into white dust.
DRINKING ALONE BENEATH THE MOON
Surely, if heaven didn’t love wine,
there would be no Wine Star in heaven,
and if earth didn’t love wine, surely
there would be no Wine Spring on earth.
Heaven and earth have always loved wine,
so how could loving wine shame heaven?
I hear clear wine called enlightenment,
and they say murky wine is like wisdom:
once you drink enlightenment and wisdom,
why go searching for gods and immortals?
Three cups and I’ve plumbed the great Way,
a jarful and I’ve merged with occurrence
appearing of itself. Wine’s view is lived:
you can’t preach doctrine to the sober.
It’s April in Ch’ang-an, these thousand
blossoms making a brocade of daylight.
Who can bear spring’s lonely sorrows,
who face it without wine? It’s the only way.
Success or failure, life long or short:
our fate’s given by Changemaker at birth.
But a single cup evens out life and death,
our ten thousand concerns unfathomed,
and once I’m drunk, all heaven and earth
vanish, leaving me suddenly alone in bed,
forgetting that person I am even exists.
Of all our joys, this must be the deepest.
SPUR OF THE MOMENT
Facing wine, I missed night coming on
and falling blossoms filling my robes.
Drunk, I rise and wade the midstream moon,
birds soon gone, and people scarcer still.
From the Introduction to THE SELECTED POEMS BY LI PO translated by David Hinton:
“In 762, a sick Li Po went to visit his “cousin” Li Yang-ping, one of the great T’ang calligraphers. It was the last in a lifetime of journeys. In the end, tzu-jan is the form of loss. Li Po arrived at Li Yang-ping’s home with a confusion of rough drafts which, being desperately ill, he asked Li Yang-ping to edit and preserve. He had managed to keep only a few hundred of the several thousand poems he’d written, and these were in turn soon lost. Another collection, of unknown origin, was discovered and edited by Li Po’s friend, Wei Hao, but it too was lost. Little is known about the history of these texts, or what transformations they underwent, until they were combined in a printed edition hundreds of years later. Meanwhile, poems and manuscripts scat¬tered around the country were collected and edited, and many of them were presumably included in the com¬bined edition, though no one knows how many were actually written by Li Po. Of the several thousand poems he is said to have written, the collection we now have contains only about 1100, and only a portion of these is authentic. So the large majority of Li Po’s work was apparently lost, especially that written during the difficult years of the rebellion. (Had this work survived, Li Po might look a little more politically engaged than he now does.) Combined with the dubious authenticity of so many surviving poems and the lack of biographi¬cal information, this loss makes Li Po as much unknown as known, as much legend as history. It may be just as well, for the legend Li Po made of himself is more consistent and compelling if he remains, like the moon, an enduring mystery. Whatever actually happened at Li Yang-ping’s house in the winter of 762, Li Po died as the legend says he died: out drunk in a boat, he fell into a river and drowned trying to embrace the moon. —D.H.
[All poems and text from THE SELECTED POEMS OF LI PO, Translated by David Hinton, A New Directions Book, 1996, winner of the 1997 Harold Morton Landon Award.]