The Summit Temple
- Poetry of Li Bai (Li Po)


- Last updated: 2024-03-29 20:37:53

The Summit Temple by Li Bai (Li Po)



English Translation

Hundred feet high the Summit Temple stands,

Where I could pluck the stars with my own hands.

At dead of night I dare not speak aloud

For fear of waking dwellers in the cloud.

The Summit Temple in present-day Hubei Province.

Li Bai was a poet renowned for his use of vivid imagery in depicting scenery in his poems. In this instance, he paints a picture of a towering yet heavenly building that seems to reach the stars. Although he never explicitly states the magnificence of this temple, his use of particular diction and sensory imagery allows his readers to experience the same awestruck wonder he felt when he saw this temple for the first time.

In the very first line, he surrounds the main subject of the poem, 楼 (temple), with two adjectives, 危 (dangerous) and 高 (tall), to immediately reveal the imposing height of the temple. The reader simply cannot miss the fact that the tower appears physically daunting. To build upon the diction, Li states that the temple is so tall that his hands can reach the stars in the night sky (perhaps the Chinese version of the Tower of Babel?). In referencing a human body part, Li makes the wondrous aspect of this tower more tangible and relatable to his readers. Furthermore, Li writes that he must speak softly for fear of awakening the celestial beings that live in the sky. The fact that someone from the temple can startle heavenly beings emphasizes its soaring structure. Through his use of imagery and diction, Li reveals the hushed grandeur of the towering temple.

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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