Li Po’s gifts as the brightest star in the early T’ang galaxy lay in three traits: first, his discernment of the futility of superficial embellishments in traditional poetry, which he tried to correct by fully exploiting the possibilities of folk song. Second, while other poets were mindful of the earthly rewards which could be derived from successful versification, Li Po was entirely free from all such utilitarian considerations. In the third place, while most of his contemporaries would make a special effort to put up fronts of patriotism and heroism, Li Po was always forthright enough to reveal his own feelings and reactions unashamedly and unadornedly.

While se should not belittle the genius of Li Po, we must bear in mind that his gifts were those that belong to an otherworldly order. In spite of his rare moments of grave concern with the human world:

his preoccupation was always to transcend rather than to abet the evils of the human world. It is because of this transcendency that for all our admiration for him, we do not feel his nearness of his being one of us common mortals. For the same reason, although his models in poetic composition, the popular ballads, had come from the world of the people, singing their joys and sorrows, this very vehicle, once guided by Li Po’s hand, had a natural tendency of rolling upward to the heavenly regions. Thus we feel that Li Po’s songs, beautiful as they are, were not originally sung to us and for us, As we imagine him high in the clouds-looking down upon his great contemporary, Tu Fu, we feel that the latter stands by us while the ethereal spirit of Li Po is, as Ho Chih-chang put it, a heavenly immortal in temporary exile on earth. Before we leave Li Po’s company, let us enjoy a few more of his masterpieces:
將進酒 李白
宣州謝朓樓餞別校書叔雲 李白
金陵三首‧其三 李白
秋浦歌 李白

Tu Fu and Li Po were twin stars of the golden period of Chinese poetry—the T’ang Dynasty. They were both complete masters of the art of poetry, they were contemporaries, and they were devoted friends. But between them there was a great chasm—created not only by different personal circumstances but also by the emergence of political and social upheavals after Li Po’s death in 762; these created a new age with which Tu Fu was to identify himself and of which Tu Fu was the major prophet.


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