These poems are excerpted from The Selected Poems of Li Po and Classical Chinese Poetry: An Anthology. They are reprinted by permission.
Read poems by Wang An-shih and Wang Wei, translated by David Hinton, also appearing in this series.
Wandering Up Ample-Gauze Creek on a Spring Day
At the canyon’s mouth, I’m singing. Soon
the path ends. People don’t go any higher.
I scramble up cliffs into impossible valleys,
and follow the creek back toward its source.
Up where newborn clouds rise over open rock,
a guest come into wildflower confusions,
I’m still lingering on, my climb unfinished,
as the sun sinks away west of peaks galore.
Reverence-Pavilion Mountain, Sitting Alone
Birds have vanished into deep skies.
A last cloud drifts away, all idleness.
Inexhaustible, this Mountain and I
gaze at each other, it alone remaining.
From Yellow-Crane Tower, my old friend leaves the west.
Downstream to Yang-chou, late spring a haze of blossoms,
distant glints of lone sail vanish into emerald-green air:
nothing left but a river flowing on the borders of heaven.
Golden-Ridge City tucked into the earth,
the river curving past, flowing away:
there were once a million homes here,
and crimson towers along narrow lanes.
A vanished country all spring grasses,
the palace buried in ancient hills, this
moon remains, facing timeless islands
across Thereafter Lake waters, empty.
Drinking Alone Beneath the Moon
Among the blossoms, a single jar of wine.
No one else here, I ladle it out myself.
Raising my cup, I toast the bright moon,
and facing my shadow makes friends three,
though moon has never understood wine,
and shadow only trails along behind me.
Kindred a moment with moon and shadow,
I’ve found a joy that must infuse spring:
I sing, and moon rocks back and forth;
I dance, and shadow tumbles into pieces.
Sober, we’re together and happy. Drunk,
we scatter away into our own directions:
intimates forever, we’ll wander carefree
and meet again in Star River distances.
It renders the mind clear—Clear Creek,
its water unrivaled for such pure color.
I can gaze into the bottom of its always
fresh repose. Is there anything like this
brilliant mirror in which people walk?
It’s a wind-painting birds cross through,
and at nightfall, shrieking monkeys leave
all lament over distant wandering empty.
Thoughts in Night Quiet
Seeing moonlight here at my bed,
and thinking it’s frost on the ground,
I look up, gaze at the mountain moon,
then back, dreaming of my old home.
Header image of traditional Chinese painting of high-mountain landscape with mist courtesy Shutterstock.