Li Po

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Li Po

Li Po (lē bô), Li Pai (lē bī), or Li T'ai-po (lē tī-bô), c.700–762, Chinese poet of the T'ang dynasty. He was born in what is now Sichuan prov. Most authorities believe that he was a Taoist; Li Po's unconcern for worldly preferment and his love for retirement was expressive of both Taoism and the delicate romanticism found in his poetry. An early period of patronage by the court was followed by banishment in 744. He spent the next decade traveling through E and SE China. After the An Lu-shan rebellion (755–57) he was exiled because of associations with a rebellious member of the imperial family. He soon received amnesty and spent his remaining years traveling along the Chang (Yangtze). Legend maintains he drowned while drunkenly embracing the moon's reflection; however, scholars believe he died from cirrhosis of the liver or from mercury poisoning due to Taoist longevity elixirs. About 1,100 of his poems are extant. Although they include many conventional verses expressing thoughts on actual events, Li Po is best known for his pieces describing voyages through imaginary landscapes, invoking exotic Taoist images and powerful emotions of fear or exhilaration. He uses strange diction and rhyme, as well as hyperbole and playfulness, typically feigning a wish to forget rather than confront reality. He preferred older poetic forms such as songs or ballads and long, tonally unregulated "old-style" verse, introducing to them various personae, including his own cultivated persona of a wild, self-obsessed poet. In Pinyin, his name is romanized as Li Bo, Li Bai, or Li Taibo.

See translations by E. Eide (1984) and S. Hamill (1987); biography by A. Waley (1950).

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