The Poem (Masterplots II: Poetry, Revised Edition)
The poem has also been translated as “At Hsieh T’iao’s High Mansion in Hsüanchou: A Parting Banquet for the Collator Shy-yün.” Either version of the title contains important information. Li Bo (Li Po) held a farewell banquet in honor of Li Yün (endeared as “Shu,” or “uncle”), who was leaving for the capital to work in the imperial library. The banquet took place at a tower built by the poet Hsieh T’iao (464-499) of the Southern Ch’i dynasty when he was governor of Hsüan-chou.
The poem opens with an unusually long couplet that establishes an elegiac tone by focusing on the passage of time and its psychological impact. Musing upon the migration of wild geese riding on auspicious winds, the poet observes to the collator that it is a good time for drinking, and he begins to discuss matters of a scholastic nature by alluding to three important moments in the history of Chinese literature.
The first moment, mentioned in the phrase “splendid writings of Peng-lai,” is the assimilation of Taoist philosophy into Chinese literature. (Peng-lai is believed to be inhabited by immortals who have achieved eternal life through Taoist studies and practices.) Although Taoist elements have been pervasive in Chinese literature, the classics, as defined in the early years of the Han dynasty, have been Confucianist texts. Finding its way into the canon during the unstable years of the Han dynasty, Taoism nourished poets by giving them a...
(The entire section is 720 words.)
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Forms and Devices (Masterplots II: Poetry, Revised Edition)
T’ang poetry can be written either in the “recent style” or the “ancient style.” All the lines in a recent-style poem are required to follow a set pattern of tonal contrasts and harmonies. An ancient-style poem, however, does not have a predetermined number of lines, nor is there a rigid tonal requirement. Because the format is tailored to the needs of the poem itself, the freedom from prosodic constraints makes the ancient-style format an ideal vehicle for narration and cursive expression.
“At Hsieh T’iao’s High Mansion in Hsüan-chou” is basically an ancient-style poem having twelve lines. The majority of lines have seven characters, but both of the first two lines have four characters added to the beginning of the seven-character line structure:
That which abandons me, yesterday’s a day not here to stay;That which troubles my heart, today’s a day full of dismay.
These two lines also form a couplet. The irregularity turns what could have been a cliché about time into a psychological truth that is haunting and disturbing. Such an effective beginning testifies to Li Bo’s innovative spirit.
The poem employs at least two topoi, or rhetorical commonplaces. The first topos, the wild geese migrating in the autumn, implies that Li Yün’s departure is only temporary. The ascension of the high mansion...
(The entire section is 401 words.)