Who Was Li Po?

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  • Written By: Diane Goettel
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 12 October 2019
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Li Po, also known as Li Bai, was a Chinese poet who lived from 701 to 762 AD. He was a fellow poet of Du Fu, and the pair are often considered to be the two greatest poets in the history of Chinese literature. Over 1,000 poems that Li Po wrote during his lifetime still exist today. Li Po was a man of wealth and spent much of his life traveling. In fact, many accounts of his life have him traveling through China for a great part of his time on earth.

Although Li Po's poems were all penned well over a millennium ago, they were not available to most parts of the western world until the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Marquis d'Hervey de Saint-Denys created the first translation of Po's poems into a Western language with his book Poésies de l'Époque des Thang, a French publication that was released in 1862. The first English translation of Li Po's poems was published by Herbert Allen Giles in his text titled History of Chinese Literature, which was made available to the reading public in 1901.

The poet Ezra Pound also translated Li Po's works. However, Pound translated Po's works from Japanese translations rather than their original Chinese versions. Furthermore, Pound took some liberties with the translations in order to highlight or create more politically influential meanings.


Po's poems are marked by the poet's powerful, sometimes wild imagination. His works are also known for the Taoist imagery that Po presents within then. Li Po the man is often remembered for his great love of liquor. In fact, he is said to have drowned in the Yangtze River while, on an night time cruise along the water, he was drunkenly inspired to embrace the moon's reflection on the surface of the water. However, some scholars and historians believe that he died at his own hands. This hypothesis is often argued by pointing to Po's farewell poem, which is read as a suicide note.

During his lifetime and as a historical figure, Li Po was and is often thought of as a genius. After an interview with Li Po in 720, Governor Su Ting agreed with this assumption. Po was only 19 years old at the time of the meeting. His abilities to craft poems quickly and effortlessly are legendary. Of course, the most powerful testament to Li Po's genius is the fact that his poems are still being read, taught, and revered today.


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Post 5

@sunnySkys - It's not just writers. I took a lot of art history classes in college, and a lot of famous artists were none too happy either. Sometimes I wonder if there is some kind of correlation between mental issues and creativity.

Anyway, I think it's interesting that Li Po got to travel so often. I'm sure his travels inspired his writing quite a lot. Maybe he wouldn't have been so famous of a writer if he didn't have so much material to work from!

Post 4

@indemnifyme - Well, don't be too hard on Mr. Pound. Maybe he really thought he was improving on Po's work.

Anyway, I wasn't surprised when I got to the end of this article and found that Li Po may have killed himself. So many creative people seem to!

When I was younger, I really wanted to be a writer. In fact, I wrote a lot of poetry when I was in middle school and high school. So, my mom gave me this book with short biographies of a lot of famous writers. I was distressed to learn that a lot of those writers had serious mental issues, very unhappy lives, and many killed themselves. I always wondered why it was that so many geniuses are so unhappy!

Post 3

I love poetry and literature, and I've been looking to expand my reading beyond Western writers. I think I may start with Li Po. I'm going to try to look for a non-Ezra Pound translation though.

I find it ridiculous and annoying that Ezra Pound took such literary liberties while translating Po's work. Imagine a poet taking such license with another writer's work to increase its political meaning. I doubt Mr. Pound would like it if someone did that with his literature.

So when I read Li Po's work, I'm hoping to read it in his own words, the original way he wrote it (well, directly translated to English from the original way he wrote it.)

Post 2

I love Li Po's love poetry. In fact, I credit it with helping me to win over my wife.

When we were first dating we were both starry eyed grad students and we would lie in bed at night in my cramped and cold apartment and I would read Li Po's poems to her.

They are so simple and yet so beautiful and lyrical. I think that when they are read well they are irresistible. Well, my future wife loved them and I think they helped to grow our relationship. I was extra broke at the time and didn't have to offer much more than beautiful words.

Post 1

There is something both beautiful and silly about the description of his death. Leave it to a poet to get drunk and then want to hug the moon.

He is definitely not the first or last writer to have a problem with booze and an inflated sense of romanticism. Literary history is full of people who liked the sauce a little too much and had a surplus of big feelings inside their heart. This is often the source of both their genius and their demise.

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