"Li Bai In Stroll," by Liang K'ai (1140–1210)

“Li Bai In Stroll,” by Liang K’ai (1140–1210)

By Li Bai:


You ask me why I dwell in the green mountain;
I smile and make no reply for my heart is free of care.
As the peach-blossom flows down stream and is gone into the unknown,
I have a world apart that is not among men.


The high tower is a hundred feet tall,
From here one’s hand could pluck the stars.
I do not dare to speak in a loud voice,
I fear to disturb the people in heaven.


Your grasses up north are as blue as jade,
Our mulberries here curve green-threaded branches;
And at last you think of returning home,
Now when my heart is almost broken….
O breeze of the spring, since I dare not know you,
Why part the silk curtains by my bed?

(Today’s poems are in the public domain, belong to the masses, and appear here today accordingly. The translators of today’s poems are unknown.)

Li Bai (701 –762), also known as Li Po, was a Chinese poet acclaimed from his own day to the present as a genius and romantic figure who took traditional poetic forms to new heights. He is one of the most prominent figures in the Chinese poetry of the mid-Tang Dynasty, often called the “Golden Age of China”. (Annotated biography of Li Bai courtesy of Wikipedia, with edits.)

Editor’s Note: If you’re a long-time reader of this series, you know that I cherish and revel in the poetry of Li-Young Lee. That incredible lyricist honed his craft as all great writers do, by reading the great writers who came before him. Li Bai is among Li-Young Lee’s greatest influences, and while it is a sincere pity that many of us are unable to read his work in the original Chinese, the poems’ contemplative, meditative nature reaches us across the divide of translation. They speak to the natural world, to the heavens and the earth, and to love and loss, whispering to us like wind rustling through the “grasses up north… as blue as jade.”

Want to read more by and about Li Bai?
The Poetry Foundation
Encyclopædia Britannica

About Sivan Butler-Rotholz

Sivan is the Managing Editor of the Saturday Poetry Series on As It Ought To Be and holds an MFA from Brooklyn College. She is a professor, writer, editor, comic artist, and attorney emerita. She is also the founder of Reviving Herstory. Sivan welcomes feedback, poetry submissions, and solicitations of her writing via email at sivan.sf [at] gmail [dot] com.
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  1. Maya Elashi says:

    Sivan, you took the one line I’d’ve taken: ‘your grasses up north are as blue as jade~~~’ Oh, so evocative, that, by the beginning of the third poem, tears overwhelmed me! Thanks for these from the Golden Age of China!

  2. I hadn’t read two of the three, I’m so new to Li Bai. The painting is also marvellous. Thank you for sharing.

  3. setohj says:

    Thanks for sharing 3 of Li Bai’s poems. It’s like meeting an old friend I’ve haven’t seen in a long while.

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