Drinking Alone by Moonlight
- "Flowers surround me, alone with my drink,
I pour for myself, no companion to join me.
I raise my glass and toast the full moon,
Who shall with my shadow make us three."
In the Mountains on a Summer Day
- "I fan myself in this most languid heat,
The forest invites one to lay all bare.
I hang my hood upon a rocky crag,
My head exposed I bathe in fragrant air."
Li Bai … or Li Bo, or the Westernized Li Pai or Li Po, courtesy name Taibai, or Li Tai-po, literary name Qinglian Jushi (“Household of Azure Lotus”) and others … however known to civilization, is considered China’s greatest poet. Born in 701 AD in Sichuan province, he liked to fancy himself part of the imperial family, but actually belonged to a less exalted lineage. At the age of 24 he left home to wander about a bit, sailing down the Yangtze, eventually marrying the granddaughter of a court minister, living with her family for a few years. He began writing poetry, which he showed to various government officials in the vain hope of being employed as a court scribe.
In 744, Li Bai married a second time, granddaughter to yet another high court official – Wu Zetian’s chancellor Zong Chuke – and the couple moved to Chang-an, the Tang capitol city. In 756, Li Bai became the unofficial poet laureate of the expedition of Prince Li, who was soon arrested and executed for treason, a fate Li Bai managed to avoid … being instead banished to barbaric Yelang. He eventually returned to China, there to live the rest of his life, enjoying good food, wine, refined company, and writing poetry.
All of which Li Bai incorporated in his poetry; indeed, being one of the most famous tipplers in China’s long tradition of artistic imbibers, many of his best works celebrate the joy of drinking. Of course, he also wrote about friendship, solitude, the passage of time, and the beauty of the natural world. According to legend, Li Bai drowned in 762 when, drunk in a boat, he tried to seize the moon’s reflection in the water and fell overboard.