A Beloved Rebel

He was born in either Suyab of present-day Kyrgyzstan or around Lake Baikal in Russia. Some even say he’s born in Ghazni of Afghanistan. The exact location is still in dispute. His personality and life choices are a lot like Lord Byron, the 19th century romantic era poet, even though he lived in an era 1200 years before Byron.

He drank all day long. He wrote poems continuously whether he’s drunk or sober. Moon is a recurring figure in his poems, probably due to the fact that he was more awake during the night. It’s a poetry crazed era during the Tang Dynasty. Everybody wrote poems, from the King to parlor maids, from officials to farmers. Everything was in poetry form–government edicts, regular letters, party invitations, holiday greetings. One of the reasons for the wild popularity and circulation of poetry was that papers were available everywhere and it’s produced so inexpensively that people can afford to write a lot of things with a brush and bit of black ink. Although paper was invented 300 years earlier, it was not until Tang Dynasty that it was mass produced. Also printing was invented in this era, which brought books and journals into existence.

When he was young, he ran afoul with the law several times and was jailed by officials in different provinces. However everybody loved his poems, from the jail warden to the judge. Eventually he stopped being too reckless and gave up his love for sword practice.

Everywhere he went, he was offered positions and salaries. Even though he’s often too drunk to perform any task or finish any project at all, people desired his company. His poems often wandered away from the accepted strict format, but people loved them all the same; he often subtly mocked people and poked fun at their weakness, but people forgave him.

He’s very generous and would give away all his possessions. He made a lot of friends wherever he went. Eventually his poems became so popular that the King invited him to the capital Chang’an, which is the eastern end of the Silk Road. At the King’s court, he drank even more since the King had better wine storage than others. The King’s mistress asked him for a favor–to write a poem for her. He disliked her but didn’t refuse her. Instead he tortured her and her favorite servant to present their best food, wine, and entertainment every day. After a while, she and her servant started to realize that they were duped and the poet was mocking them. They conspired to advise the King to dismiss him. The King was unwilling but eventually caved in.

He wandered away, living a life just like before, with one hand on the bottle and the other with a writing brush. One day, he got drunk on a boat and he was drowned. He was 61 years old. He is Li Po, some also call him Li Bai, or Li Bo. He’s one of history’s most popular poets. Unfortunately the English translation of his poem is … Well, what can I say? Most of his merits are lost in translation.

14 thoughts on “A Beloved Rebel

    1. Yes, his poems are fun. If he lives nowadays, he will be sent to the alcoholic anonymous or other substance abuse rehab centers. LOL. Back in the old days, he was loved for his drunkenness. LOL.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, Li Bai has his unique flavor in person and in his poem. It is said he has a huge volume of poems. Somehow I suspect that his poems are selected with “sanitation” in mind. Judging from his life and his character, he can’t just write what is generally known and accepted. One day, I want to read the unabridged version of his poetry.

      Liked by 1 person

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