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Self-Abandonment -- Li Po

(Poem #826) Self-Abandonment
 I sat drinking and did not notice the dusk,
 Till falling petals filled the folds of my dress.
 Drunken I rose and walked to the moonlit stream;
 The birds were gone, and men also few.
-- Li Po
Translated by Arthur Waley.

I find Arthur Waley a rather unsympathetic translator of Li Po; often, he
seems irked by the poet's carefree hedonism [1], preferring the austerity
and elegance of, say, Tu Fu or Wang Wei. As a result, his translations seem
strained, insincere; they have none of the supple beauty of Sam Hamill's, or
even Ezra Pound's.

That said, there are occasions on which Waley gets things exactly right;
this is one of them. "Self-Abandonment" captures the beauty that lies on the
other side of perception, the beauty of the unspoken, the unseen, the
unknown. It's almost Zen-like in its rejection of character and plot, and
yet, in a mysterious, moonlit sort of way, it works - and it's absolutely


[1] Not without cause, it must be said:
        "In outward personality [Li Po] was the more tiresome sort of
bohemian: vain and untrustworthy, an irresponsible citizen, a careless
friend (once the conventional pieties of 'friendship verse' have been
discounted), an indifferent husband and a terrible drunk."
        -- from a review of Simon Elegant's 1997 translation of Li Po's mock
autobiographical tale, "A Floating Life". The full review is at
[broken link]


A Li Po biography has already featured on the Minstrels, accompanying
Poem #504, "About Tu Fu". So here's an Arthur Waley biography instead:

Waley, Arthur David

  born Aug. 19, 1889, Tunbridge Wells, Kent, Eng.
  died June 27, 1966, London
  original name Arthur David Schloss

English sinologist whose outstanding translations of Chinese and Japanese
literary classics into English had a profound effect on such modern poets as
W. B. Yeats and Ezra Pound. (The family name was changed from Schloss to
Waley, his mother's maiden name, at the outset of World War I.)

Educated at Rugby School and at King's College, Cambridge, Eng., Waley was
assistant keeper in the Department of Prints and Drawings at the British
Museum from 1913 to 1929 and lectured thereafter in the School of Oriental
and African Studies, London.

Among his most outstanding and influential translations are 170 Chinese
Poems (1918), Japanese Poems (1919), and the six-volume translation of The
Tale of Genji (1925-33), by Murasaki Shikibu, which is one of the oldest
novels extant in the world. This novel faithfully depicts aristocratic life
in 11th-century Japan, as does a work by another court lady, which Waley
translated as The Pillow-Book of Sei Shonagon (1928). He also wrote on
Oriental philosophy and translated and edited the Analects of Confucius

Waley's other works include The No Plays of Japan (1921), Introduction to
the Study of Chinese Painting (1923), The Opium War Through Chinese Eyes
(1958), and The Ballads and Stories from Tun-huang (1960).

        -- EB

[Minstrels Links]

Li Po poems:
Poem #504, About Tu Fu
Poem #683, To Tu Fu from Shantung
Poem #749, Parting
Poem #794, In the Quiet Night
Poem #70, The River-Merchant's Wife: A Letter
Note that the last named above was translated by Ezra Pound; his translation
is said to be very different from the Chinese original.

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