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The River Song by Li Bai (701-762)
from Cathay (1915)
English verse by Ezra Pound (1885-1972)

The Rhyme Maker
Li Bai 701 to 762
Li Bai

Theme:  Poetry and Poets

Special Rhyme List:  Videos

Other English translations:
River Chant (Lowell)
On The Ship Of Spice-wood

Li Bai is also known as Li Po, Li Bo, Li Tai-po, and (rarely) as   Rihaku (Japanese name).

This translation by Ezra Pound barely has a drop of wine in it, and I almost did not include it at (as is the case with the Obata translation of this poem).  With the Lowell rendering (see “River Chant” link above), we find a stronger wine presence.  I offer the Obata and Pound versions to demonstrate the important role the translator of poetry plays in renderings from one language to another.  All three versions have their strong points.

Cathay (old English term for China) was the poet Ezra Pound’s first publication.  Based on the notes of Ernest Fenollosa given to Pound by his widow to complete, the resulting poems were loose translations, the young Pound being the major creative force in the 17 poems published in 1915.  These poems would inspire others to translate Classic Chinese poetry.

The Cathay poems have had a major impact on Western poetry, Ezra Pound demonstrating a simplicity in wordage and focus that would define the Imagist movement in poetry and usher-in the modern era.

Another wine poem from Pound's Cathay is To Em-Mei's "The Unmoving Cloud by T'ao Yuanming.

The indentations in this poem indicate the continuation of the previous line, which did not fit within the specified margins of this web page.  Compare with printable version.
- S. H. Bass   

Special Note:  The Wine Poems of China

more Li Bai at

A Farewell Banquet (Lowell)
A Midnight Farewell (Obata)

A Mountain Revelry (Obata)

At The Ancestral Shrine Of King Yao (Lowell)

Before The Cask of Wine (Obata)

Descending The Extreme South Mountain (Lowell)

Drinking Alone by Moonlight II (Waley)

Drinking Alone On The Rock (Lowell)

Maid Of Wu (Obata)

On Being Asked Who He Is (Obata)

On The Yo-Yang Tower (Obata)

Sent As A Parting Gift (Lowell)

Taking Leave Of Du Fu (Lowell)

The Terraced Road (Lowell)

To Meng Haojan (Obata)

Two Poems Written As Parting Gifts (Lowell)

While Journeying (Obata)

With A Man of Leisure (Obata)

poems with multiple English translations:
After Being Drunk On a Spring Day (Lowell)
Awakening From Sleep On A Spring Day
Waking From Drunkenness on a Spring Day

Drinking Alone In The Moonlight I
Three With The Moon And His Shadow
Drinking Alone by Moonlight I
(Waley) A/V

Drinking Alone In The Moonlight II
A Vindication
Drinking Alone by Moonlight III

Drinking Song
An Exhortation

On The Eve Of Starting On A Journey
Parting At a Tavern of Chin-Ling

Old Tai's Wine-Shop
On The Death Of The Good Brewer

The Solitude of Night (Obata)

The River Song by Li Bai (Pound)The River Song                      
Li Bai (701-762), Chinese poet
English verse by Ezra Pound (1885-1972)

This boat is of shato-wood, and its gunwales are
cut magnolia,
Musicians with jeweled flutes and with pipes of gold
Fill full the sides in rows, and our wine
Is rich for a thousand cups.
We carry singing girls, drift with the drifting
Yet Sennin needs
A yellow stork for a charger, and all our seamen
Would follow the white gulls or ride them.
Kutsu's prose song
Hangs with the sun and moon.

King So's terraced palaceis now but a barren hill,
But I draw pen on this barge
Causing the five peaks to tremble,
And I have joy in these words like the joy of blue
(If glory could last forever
Then the waters of Han would flow northward.)
And I have moped in the Emperor's garden,
awaiting an
I looked at the dragon-pond, with its willow-colored water
Just reflecting the sky's tinge,
And heard the five-score nightingales aimlessly

The eastern wind brings the green color into the
island grasses
 at Yei-shu,
The purple house and the crimson are full of Spring softness.
South of the pond the willow-tips are half-blue and bluer,
Their cords tangle in mist, against the brocade like palace.
Vine-strings a hundred feet long hang down from carved railings,
And high over the willows, the fine birds sing to each other,
 and listen,
Crying -- " Kwan, Kuan," for the early wind, and the feel of it.
The wind bundles itself into a bluish cloud and wanders off.
Over a thousand gates, over a thousand doors are the sounds
 of spring singing,
And the Emperor is at Ko.
Five clouds hang aloft, bright on the purple sky,
The imperial guards come forth from the golden
house with their
 armor a-gleaming.
The Emperor in his jeweled car goes out to inspect his flowers,
He goes out to Hori, to look at the wing-flapping storks,
He returns by way of Sei rock, to hear the new nightingales,
For the gardens at Jo-run are full of new nightingales,
Their sound is mixed in this flute,                                      
Their voice is in the twelve pipes here.                                           

from Cathay (1915)            

The Internet Archive
Free E-Book:  Ezra Pound's Cathay

Free LibriVox Audio Book:  Ezra Pound's Cathay

BOTTLED POETRY: Verses from the Vine
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