The Exile’s Letter

Making unearthly music out of the high tower...




Poem by Li Po


Drinking Alone


I take my wine jug out among the flowers

to drink alone, without friends.


I raise my cup to entice the moon.

That, and my shadow, makes us three.


But the moon doesn't drink,

and my shadow silently follows.


I will travel with moon and shadow,

happy to the end of spring.


When I sing, the moon dances.

When I dance, my shadow dances, too.


We share life's joys when sober.

Drunk, each goes a separate way.


Constant friends, although we wander,

we'll meet again in the Milky Way.



A Mountain Revelry



To wash and rinse our souls of their age-old sorrows,

We drained a hundred jugs of wine.

A splendid night it was . . . .

In the clear moonlight we were loath to go to bed,

But at last drunkenness overtook us;

And we laid ourselves down on the empty mountain,

The earth for pillow, and the great heaven for coverlet.



The Exile’s Letter



Remember how Tung built us a place to drink in

At Lo-yang south of the T’ien-ching bridge?

White jade and gold bought songs and laughter.

We drank forgetting Court and princes.

Those amongst us, wisest and bravest

On all this side of rivers and oceans,

Hearts high as clouds, and you and I together,

Cared nothing at crossing lakes and mountains

Only to share our thoughts and feelings.


Then I went out south-east to cut the laurel,

You north of Lo River still lost in dreams.

No joy in being parted. Soon back again in mountains,

Tracking the thirty-six twists and turns of valley,

By the streams bright with a thousand flowers,

By endless waters,

Hearing pine-trees sighing,

Till we met the Hang-tung Governor

On a gold and silver saddle,

And Hu the True-Taoist drew us with his pipe playing,

Making unearthly music out of the high tower,

Strange sounds of the mating phoenix.

The Governor’s sleeves kept time to the music,

So that he rose, drunk, and danced a little,

Brought his brocade coat, covered my body.

I fell asleep, head resting in his lap.

By day our hearts rose to the nine heavens.

At evening we scattered like blown stars or rain,

I to my far mountain over hills and waters,

You to your own house by the bridge of Wei.



That winter I made your father’s North City,

Loved you for the way you did me honour,

Sharing your wealth, thinking nothing of it.

Wine there - in cups of amber,

Food there - on plates of jade.

I ate and drank, no thoughts of returning.

We went out to the west. The river parts there,

Round the ancient shrine of a Prince of Chou.

Boats on the waters to drums and piping.

Waves made of dragon scales. Jade-green rushes.

We drank and drank, lived the passing moments,

Forgetting how they go like blossoms or snowfall.

Flushed with wine, warm in glow of sunset,

The hundred-foot deep pool mirroring bright faces,

Dancing-girls delicate as willows in the moonlight,

Notes lost in the silken sleeves’ fluttering.

A white breeze blew their song to the sky,

Winding through the air, twisting in the cloud-lanes.

Never again. Never again such joy.


I went west but got no promotion.

White-headed back to eastern hills.

Met once more south of Wei’s bridge.

Parted again north of Tso’s terrace.

And if you ask my feelings at parting,

They were inside me like Spring flowers falling.

No way to say what’s in the heart. Never.

I call in the boy. Have him kneel here, tie this,

To send my feelings through a thousand miles.









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