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Li Po, or Li Bo or Li Bai (李白), also known as Li Taibo or Li Taipo (太白), is a famous Chinese poet. He is considered as the greatest romantic poet of the Tang dynasty. Renowned as the Poet Immortal (詩仙), he is among the most well-respected poets in China's literary history. Approximately 1,100 poems of his remain today. Li Po's works are introduced to the western world through the very liberal translations of Japanese versions of his poems made by Ezra Pound. Li Bo is best known for the extravagant imagination and striking Taoist imagery in his poetry, as well as for his great love of drink. He is said to have drowned in the Yangtze river, having fallen from his boat while drunkenly trying to embrace the moon.

Li Po was born the son of a rich merchant in today Sichuan province. He was influenced as a child by Confucian and Taoist as a child, but ultimately his family heritage did not provide him with much opportunity in the aristocratic Tang dynasty. Though he expressed the wish to become an official, he did not sit for the Chinese civil service examination. Instead, beginning at age 25 he travelled around China, affecting a wild and free persona very much contrary to the prevailing ideas of a proper Confucian gentleman. This portrayal fascinated the aristocrats and common people alike and he was introduced to the Emperor Xuan Zong (玄宗) around 742.

He was given a post at the Hanlin (翰林, pinyin han4 lin2) academy which served to provide a source of scholarly expertise for the emperor. Li Po passed less than two years as a poet in the Emperor's service, before he was exiled for slander. He fled south and was involved in the An Lushan Rebellion against the Tang dynasty. The failure of the rebellion resulted in Li Bai being exiled a second time, to Yelang. He was pardoned before the exile journey was complete and spent the remainder of his life wandering China.

Li Po died in Dangtu in modern day Anhui. Despite what legend would have, scholars believe his death was the result of mercury poisoning due to a long history of imbuing Taoist longevity elixirs.

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Some of his most famous poems :


Night Thoughts

The bright moon shone
before my bed,
I wondered --
was it frost upon the ground?
I raised my head
to gaze at the clear moon,
Bowed my head
remembering my old home.

A Toast To Our Life

Do you not see the waters of the Yellow River
       streaming from the sky --
How they rush tumbling to the sea
       and never return?
Do you not see, within the high tower,
       someone who sorrows for his white hair
              before the bright mirror? --
In the morning like black silk, at evening turned to snow?
In human life, when hopes are won,
       we should drink our joys to the end,
Not leave the golden wine-jar
       empty in the moonlight.
Heaven made me, I must have a use;
Though I squander a thousand gold pieces,
       time may restore them.

Boil the sheep! Kill the ox! Let us be merry!
Three hundred cupfuls of wine we must drink this time!
Master Ts'en*!
Doctor Tan-ch'iu!
I am bringing the wine --
Don't put down your cups!
I shall sing you a snatch of song:
Listen to me carefully please.

Gongs and drums, costly dishes, little I prize them;
I only want the long dream of wine and never to wake.
Through all the ages, the good and wise were passed
       over in silence;
Only the mighty drinkers left a name behind.
Think of the Prince of Ch'en** in former days,
       feasting at P'ing-lo palace --
The wine at ten thousand a flagon,
       the endless jesting and laughter...

How can a host complain he is short of money?
I must hasten to buy the wine to put before my friends.
My horse dappled with the five colours
And my thousand-gold furs --
I will call the boy to barter them for a splendid wine
That you and I may forget the sorrows of all the ages.