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Li Po, the Immortal of the Winecup


Li Po, styled T'ai-po, was descended in the ninth generation from the Emperor Hsing-shēng. One of his ancestors was charged with a crime at the end of the Sui dynasty, and took refuge in Turkestan. At the beginning of the period Shēn-lung the family returned and settled in Pa-hsi in Szechwan. At his birth Po's mother dreamt of the planet Venus, and that was why he was called Po.

At the beginning of the T'ien-pao period he went to Ch'ang-an. Here he visited Ho Chih-chang. When Chih-chang read some of his work, he sighed and said : " You are an exiled fairy." He told the Emperor, who sent for Po and gave him audience in the Golden Bells Hall. The poet submitted an essay dealing with current events. The Emperor bestowed food upon him and stirred the soup with his own hand. He ordered that he should be unofficially attached to the Han Lin Academy, but Po went on drinking in the market-place with his boon-companions.

Once when the Emperor was sitting in the Pavilion of Aloes Wood, he had a sudden stirring of heart, and wanted entered in obedience to the summons, he was so drunk that the courtiers were obliged to dab his face with water. When he had recovered a little, he seized a brush and without any effort wrote a composition of flawless grace.

The Emperor was so pleased with Po's talent that whenever he was feasting or drinking he always had this poet to wait upon him. Once when Po was drunk the Emperor ordered [the eunuch] Kao Li-shih to take off Po's shoes. Li-shih, who thought such a task beneath him, took revenge by affecting to discover in one of Po's poems a veiled attack on the Emperor's mistress Yang Kuei-fei.

Whenever the Emperor thought of giving the poet some official rank, Kuei-fei intervened and dissuaded him.

Po himself, soon realizing that he was unsuited to Court life, allowed his conduct to become more and more reckless and unrestrained.

Together with his friends, he formed the association known as the Eight Immortals of the Winecup.

He begged persistently to be allowed to retire from Court. At last the Emperor gave him gold and sent him away. Po roamed the country in every direction, drinking his wine.

There is a legend that he was drowned while making a drunken effort to embrace the reflection of the moon in the water.


See the waters of the Yellow River leap down from Heaven,
Roll away to the deep sea and never turn again !
See at the mirror in the High Hall
Aged men bewailing white locks
In the morning, threads of silk ;
In the evening flakes of snow !
Snatch the joys of life as they come and use them to the fill;
Do not leave the silver cup idly glinting at the moon.
The things Heaven made
Man was meant to use ;
A thousand guilders scattered to the wind may come back again.
Roast mutton and sliced beef will only taste well
If you drink with them at one sitting three hundred cups.
Master Ts'en Ts'an,
Doctor Tan-ch'iu,
Here is wine : do not stop drinking,
But listen, please, and I will sing you a song.
Bells and drums and fine food, what are they to me,
Who only want to get drunk and never again be sober ?
The Saints and Sages of old times are all stock and still ;
Only the mighty drinkers of wine have left a name behind.
When the king of Ch'en gave a feast in the Palace of P'ing-lo
With twenty thousand gallons of wine he loosed mirth and play.
The master of the feast must not cry that his money is all spent ;
Let him send to the tavern and fetch more, to keep your glasses filled.
His five-flower horse and thousand-guilder coat
Let him call his boy to take them along and sell them for good wine,

That drinking together we may drive away the sorrows of a thousand years.


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