Friday, March 29, 2013

Li Bo As the Ultimate Outsider Poet

Li Bo was a little like a wild character we have where I live. So wild and mysterious that people often stop and ask those who know him if the eccentricity is an act. I myself asked the question when I first met him, and the answer was the same answer I now give those who ask me: "There's a little acting in there, but mostly it's authentic eccentricity."

Li Bo
The poet Li Bo wandered quite a bit during his life. Having attained a reputation as a wildman and a wise fool of poetry, nobles and the wealthy class enjoyed his company and he was often summoned to hold court. Almost always his welcome was worn out, but the invitations kept coming. In his poetry Li Bo was also keen to challenge convention, writing about taboo topics like popular culture, drinking, carousing, and religion. 

Here is one of his most popular poems, titled "Drinking Alone Under the Moon."

"Drinking Alone under the Moon," by Li Bo

Among the flowers, a single jug of wine;
I drink alone. No one close to me.
I raise my cup, invite the bright moon;
facing my shadow, together we make three.
The moon doesn't know how to drink;
and my shadow can only follow my body.
But for a time I make moon and shadow my companions;
taking one's pleasure must last until spring.
I sing — the moon wavers back and forth.
I dance — my shadow flickers and scatters.
When I'm sober we take pleasure together.
When I'm drunk, we each go our own ways.
I make an oath to journey forever free of feelings,
making an appointment with them to meet in the Milky Way afar.

Even with his deliberate affectations and flauting of conventions for the sake of causing scandal and increasing his cache as a wildman of poetry, Li Bo was an Outsider all his life. Outside his culture, outside his family, even slightly outside the poetic forms he became a master of. 

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