Question and Answer in the Mountain Analysis

Li Bo

The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

There are two other alternative titles for this poem in some existing editions, but neither is as apt. The first, “Answer to a Question,” is too general, whereas the second, “Answer from the Mountain, to a Worldly Person,” is too explicit.

The poem begins with an innocent question, which can be translated differently depending on which of the two variant texts is used. According to one text, the line can be rendered as: “You ask me what I am doing dwelling in the Emerald Mountain.” In the second text, the line would be: “You ask me why I intend to dwell in the Emerald Mountain.” The first reading specifies dwelling in the mountain as a fact, whereas the second suggests that the poet is contemplating doing so. The distinction between the two readings will have a significant bearing on the rest of the poem.

To answer the question, the poet writes that “I smile but make no reply, for my heart itself is at leisure.” In the variant text, the poet simply says nothing instead of making no reply. Although the wording “make no reply” echoes the title of the poem appropriately, saying nothing could be an interesting reading because it suggests that the poet does not wish to be bothered by the question at all. This reading is more consistent with the sense of serenity expressed in the phrase, “for my heart itself is at leisure.”

Having handled the question in one way or another, the poet begins to muse upon the...

(The entire section is 462 words.)