While Journeying
- Poetry of Li Bai (Li Po)

《客中行》

- Last updated: 2024-03-29 20:31:33

While Journeying by Li Bai (Li Po)
中文原文

兰陵美酒郁金香,玉椀盛来琥珀光。

但使主人能醉客,不知何处是他乡。


English Translation

How flavorous is golden-tulip Lanling wine!

Filling my bowl of jade,in amber it will glow.

It is enough if you can make me drunk,host mine,

No more nostalgia in foreign land shall I know.

Lanling - In present-day Shandong Province.

Residing in a foreign land, Li Bai longs to return to his hometown. However, throughout this poem, Li reveals how a pleasing scent has the ability to make his nostalgia and homesickness reside temporarily. The poet begins with sensory descriptions of the fine wine of Lanling, describing the smell and color of the wine: the wine gives off the fragrance of 郁金 (tulips), a universal symbol of beauty, and glows with 琥珀光 (an amber hue). Known as a man who loved to drink wine, Li reveals that this Lanling wine holds special in his heart through his detailed descriptions of the wine itself as well as the valuable 玉碗 (jade bowl or cup) that he uses to hold the wine in. The joy that observing and drinking this wine gives him allows the poet to transcend his wallowing sadness and experience momentary pleasure —  pleasure coming from a state of oblivion.

Why Chinese poems is so special?
The most distinctive features of Chinese poetry are: concision- many poems are only four lines, and few are much longer than eight; ambiguity- number, tense and parts of speech are often undetermined, creating particularly rich interpretative possibilities; and structure- most poems follow quite strict formal patterns which have beauty in themselves as well as highlighting meaningful contrasts.
How to read a Chinese poem?
Like an English poem, but more so. Everything is there for a reason, so try to find that reason. Think about all the possible connotations, and be aware of the different possibilities of number and tense. Look for contrasts: within lines, between the lines of each couplet and between successive couplets. Above all, don't worry about what the poet meant- find your meaning.

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