This week's theme: the Silk Road.
tr. Hamil. The pinyin form of the poet's name is Li Bo, while the Wade-Giles anglicized form is Li T'ai-Po. I've chosen to retain the name by which he's most widely known (in the West, at least). Tu Fu was another famous Chinese poet and contemporary of Li Po's; the pinyin form of his nawe is Du Fu. I don't know who Hamil is; every single Li Po webpage turned up by Google said "tr. Hamil" and left it at that, so I've done the same. I'd appreciate any clues, though. Anyway. Enough preliminaries, on to the poem... Like the best Imagist poets in English , Li Po uses the simplest of words and phrases to paint a verbal picture that's delicate and expressive. This in itself is no mean achievement, but what I really like about today's poem is the way that having set the scene, the poet surprises us with a brilliantly unexpected (and unexpectedly brilliant) punchline. Even better, after reading it you know that no other ending could possibly work; there's an ineffable 'rightness' about Li Po's conclusion. Of course, the fact that 'About Tu Fu' is, in reality, about the nature of poetry makes it irresistible to me. And unlike some poets I could name , Li Po is not pompous or pretentious about the importance of his art; rather, he's gently sympathetic - he pokes fun at his chosen profession, yet acknowledges the intensity and dedication that that profession demands. A wonderfully compressed piece of beauty and insight. thomas.  As I've mentioned before on the Minstrels, the Imagists (one of my favourite schools of poetry) were heavily influenced by Chinese and Japanese poets, especially Li Po, Basho and Buson.  See poem #240 [On this week's theme] Certain times, events and places have a magic of association about them - names like Xanadu, Samarkand, Baghdad, the Levant and Venice each conjure up a wealth of imagination and imagery. And it's no coincidence that each of the above was a part of the fabled Silk Road, an endless repository of wondrous stories... James Elroy Flecker's verse drama 'The Golden Road to Samarkand' was what prompted this particular excursion of mine. In the days to come, I'll be running various other poems written in or about the locales of the Silk Road. As always, your suggestions are most welcome. [Minstrels Links] Poems about poetry and about poets are rife on our website; see especially the week of August 24th last year (poems 186 to 190). 'The River-Merchant's Wife: A Letter' is heartbreakingly beautiful; the original is by Li Po, but the version most commonly read is Ezra Pound's - a very free translation, and one which says as much about Pound as it does about Po. You can read it at poem #70 Not _quite_ a Silk Road poem, but very close, is Coleridge's masterpiece 'Kubla Khan', at poem #30 William Turner's 'Romance' is a poem which consciously uses place-names to evoke images of the unattainable; it's archived at poem #238 Brittanica has (as usual) no shortage of things to say: [On the Silk Road] ... also called SILK ROUTE, ancient trade route that, linking China with the West, carried goods and ideas between the two great civilizations of Rome and China. Silk came westward, while wools, gold, and silver went east. China also received Nestorian Christianity and Buddhism (from India) via the road. Originating at Sian, the 4,000-mile (6,400-kilometre) road, actually a caravan tract, followed the Great Wall of China to the northwest, bypassed the Takla Makan Desert, climbed the Pamirs (mountains), crossed Afghanistan, and went on to the Levant; from there, the merchandise was shipped across the Mediterranean Sea. Few persons travelled the entire route, and goods were handled in a staggered progression by middlemen. With the gradual loss of Roman territory in Asia and the rise of Arabian power in the Levant, the Silk Road became increasingly unsafe and untravelled. In the 13th and 14th centuries the route was revived under the Mongols, and at that time Marco Polo used the road to travel to Cathay (China). [On Li Po] b. 701, Szechwan province, China d. 762, Tang-t'u, Anhwei province Li Po liked to regard himself as belonging to the imperial family, but he actually belonged to a less-exalted family of the same surname. At 19 he left home and lived with a Taoist recluse. After a period of wandering, he married and lived with his wife's family, north of Han-chou. He had already begun to write poetry and showed some of it to various officials, in the vain hope of becoming employed as a secretary. A visit to a friend in northeast China in 734 began another period of wandering, and in 742 he arrived at Ch'ang-an, the capital, no doubt hoping to be given a post at court. No official post was forthcoming, but he was accepted into a group of distinguished court poets. In the autumn of 744 he began his wanderings again. At this point he met the other towering poet of the period, Tu Fu, then scarcely known, while Li Po's fame was already immense. Tu Fu, it is clear, was completely carried away by the dash and verve of the older man, who was becoming increasingly wrapped up in Taoism and alchemical studies and at about that time was definitely accepted as a Taoist initiate, receiving a diploma of spiritual progress from the hands of a high Taoist dignitary. In 756 Li Po became unofficial poet laureate to the military expedition of Prince Lin, the emperor's 16th son. The prince was soon accused of intending to set up an independent kingdom and was executed; Li Po was arrested and imprisoned at Chiu-chiang. A high official, reviewing sentences passed in connection with the troubles, looked into Li Po's case, had him released, and made him a staff secretary. In the summer of 758 the charges against Li Po were revived, and he was banished to Yeh-lang. Before he arrived, he benefited by a general amnesty; he returned to eastern China, where he died in a relative's house, though popular legend says that he drowned when, sitting drunk in a boat, he tried to seize the moon's reflection in the water. Li Po was a romantic in his view of life and in his verse. One of the most famous wine drinkers in China's long tradition of imbibers, Li Po frequently celebrated the joy of drinking. He also wrote of friendship, solitude, the passage of time, and the joys of nature. Popularly referred to as a "banished Immortal," he wrote with brilliance and great freshness of imagination. [On Tu Fu] b. 712, Hsiang-yang, now in Honan province, China d. 770, Hunan Born into a scholarly family, Tu Fu received a traditional Confucian education but failed in the imperial examinations of 736. As a result, he spent much of his youth traveling, during which he won renown as a poet and met the other poets of the period, including the great Li Po. After a brief flirtation with Taoism while traveling with Li Po, Tu Fu returned to the capital and the conventional Confucianism of his youth. He never again met Li Po, despite his strong admiration for is older, freewheeling contemporary. -- the above three sections from the Encyclopaedia Brittanica [Endnote] I've only just noticed that the poem (or at least, this particular translation thereof) actually rhymes... a very elegant and unobtrusive touch. [Moreover] Li, bo, po and tai are all acceptable Scrabble words; Tu, fu and du are not.