Opening Book: The Death of Li Po Page 14

Page 14 The Death of Li Lo

5 responses

  1. Hi,it’s really interesting to find that you were once fascinated (perhaps not the right word?) by Li Po. There have been three different versions of how he died, and you have chosen the most romantic one. How come you have chosen this version? Or was it simply because you didn’t know the other two? I was wondering what might be your opinion on his poetry, for poetry translation often damages the beauty of the original text.

    • Hi,it’s really interesting to find that you were once fascinated (perhaps not the right word?) by Li Po.

      Li Po doesn’t interest me as much as Su Tung-Po.

      I get tired of his always going on about wine and drink.

      And there’s an aloofness to Li Po’s poetry that is either a quality of Li Po or of his translators. I’ve never felt a compelling connection with the poet. Du Fu, on the other hand, I understand. I can imagine Tu FU.

      Su Tung-Po, I love. I love his poetry and admire his life. He was a great poet and, I think, he aspired to live greatly. Whenever I feel as though I might complain about my lot in life, I think about Su Tung-Po, his persecution, and how he could nevertheless find joy and contentment no matter where he was. This is really no exaggeration. In some ways, I aspire to be like him.

      As to Li Po’s death, the romance of this version was irresistible to me – like a fable.

      Maybe rumors of his death fascinated me more than his life. :-)

      But how I wish I could read the Chinese poets in the original! So much is lost in translation and all translations of Chinese poetry have been unimaginatively poor. No translator, of any merit, has ever attempted to translate the formal mastery of the poets (for which Tu Fu is particularly famed). I think that 20th Century translations have, without exception, done considerable harm to the formal beauty of the original Chinese poetry. I suppose it’s going to take not just a gifted translator, but a gifted poet as well, to translate not just the words, but the lyricism.

      Free-verse is abjectly inadequate when translating these ancient masters.

  2. As to Li Po’s death, the romance of this version was irresistible to me – like a fable.

    Maybe rumors of his death fascinated me more than his life. :-)

    I’ve just guessed so. But Li Po’s poetry is not all about wine and drink. There’s wild imagination working in what I consider one of his best poems, the one in which he describes his visit to an fabribated mountain in a dream. Often I believe that there are many similarities between this pome and Coleridge’s Kubla Khan in terms of imagery.
    Su Dung-Po is also my most beloved poet. His style is so variable that sometimes he is like a general commanding his army to march triumphantly and sometimes he is a loving husband lamenting nostalgically for his deceased wife. But, I can never imagine reading him in English:)
    As for the formal beauty of Chinese poems which is lost in the process of translation, I’d also say I hate to read Chinese translation of english poems, for so much beauty about the sound is also dropped from the translation. Perhaps we’d both admit the limitation of translation, for every language has its special appeal. For me, I’ve found learning English is a great benefit for the melody of Tennyson’s poetry has become more comprehensible, while at the same time ancient Chinese poetry can still cast its spell on me.
    By the way, I’ve enjoyed reading your poems and your posts have greatly helped me undertand how to scan a poem. Thank u!:)

    • Thank you blue angel,

      I hope your group enjoys it. In truth, though, my favorite poet is not Li Po, but Su Tungpo. Though Lin Yutang biography is said to be somewhat biased, it’s well worth reading. :-)

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