Two poems by Li Bai

From historical sources, myths and stories, and the poetry of Li Bai and his contemporaries, Ha Jin conjures a vivid personality in a richly detailed world a millennium past.  The Banished Immortal, A Life of Li Bai draws us into the life of an extraordinary artist in the turbulent middle years of the Tang Dynasty.  Li Bai never achieved the official recognition that he sought but his poetry was widely admired and loved.  The nickname “the banished immortal” suggests it is so excellent that he must be a heavenly personage, banished to earth for some misdeed.

This short poem was chosen for the UN stamp set commemorating World Poetry Day.

Reflection In A Quiet Night

Moonlight spreads before my bed.

I wonder if it’s hoarfrost on the ground.

I raise my head to watch the moon

and lowering it, I think of home.

Another poem written for his uncle, a conscientious low-ranking official discouraged by court corruption.

Song For Accompanying Uncle Hua on Xie Tiao’s Tower

Yesterday, having left me, couldn’t be pressed to stay.  

Today, still disturbing me, makes me more upset.

The long wind is sending the autumn geese far away,

And viewing them from this high tower, we should drink more.

Your essays are fresh and strong like those of the Han dynasty

While my poetry resembles Xie Tiao’s in vigor and beauty.

We both have lofty spirit, thinking of soaring

To the sky to grab hold of the clear moon.

I draw my sword to cut water, which won’t stop flowing,

And I raise my cup to douse my sorrow, which grows stronger.

Ah, life is such a sad thing that tomorrow

I will undo my hair and sail away in a little boat.



Author: abookwomansholiday

The perfect holiday for a lifelong reader is one with a stack of books and few distractions. Retiring after three decades as a bookseller, I look forward to reading my way through the stacks and shelves and lists of books waiting for me. This blog will be something of a grab bag or commonplace book of reviews, quotations, notes on the history of books, the contemporary book trade, and anything connected with books and language. Reading is a great pleasure. Thinking and talking about books multiplies and intensifies that pleasure.

2 thoughts on “Two poems by Li Bai”

  1. I read the Banished Immortal a few months ago, drawn in by his poetry. A lovely book, not only for his poems but for the richer understanding that comes from knowing the poet’s life.


    1. Delighted to know you also found and enjoyed this biography. I was struck by the specificity and spontaneity of composition that characterized much of the period’s poetry. The author was very skillful in the way he pulled meaning from the poems and blended them with the small store of facts to fully bring Li Bai to life.


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