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 suitable rhetoric and repertoire to explore nonconformist modes of expression.
The “substantial style of the Chien-an Era” refers to a crucial stage in the development of Chinese poetry. During the reign of Emperor Hsien-ti of the Eastern Han dynasty (the Chien-an era of 196-219), a...
(The entire section is 720 words.)