Friday, March 24, 2017

Li Po: "Drinking Alone in Moonlight"

I have already posted this poem, but it was a different translation.  I have heard the saying, "In vino veritas,"when means, I guess, in wine there is truth.  But enlightenment. . .?

Drinking Alone in Moonlight

If Heaven had no love for wine,
There would be no Wine Star in Heaven;
If earth had no love for wine,
There would be no city called Wine Springs..
Since Heaven and Earth love wine,
I can love wine without shaming Heaven.

They say that clear wine is a saint,
Thick wine follows the way of the sage.
I have drunk deep of saint and sage:
What need then to study the spirits and fairies?
With three cups I penetrate the Great Tao,
Take a whole jugful--I and the world are one.
Such things as I have dreamed in wine
Shall never be told to the sober.

-- Li Po --
from A Treasury of Asian Literature
John  B. Yohannan, editor

Sounds very modern to me.  Just substitute LSD or peyote or any other mind altering drug for wine.


  1. "Life in the world is but a big dream;
    I will not spoil it by any labor or care."
    So saying, I was drunk all day,
    Lying helpless at the porch in front of my door.
    When I woke up I looked into the garden court;
    A single bird was singing amid the flowers.

    I asked myself, what season is this?
    Restless the oriole chatters in the spring breeze.
    Moved by its song I soon began to sigh
    And as wine was there, I filled my own cup.
    Noisily singing I waited for the moon to rise;
    When my song was over, all my senses had gone.

    (trans. Arthur Waley, The Poetry and Career of LiPo)

    so, it's not just the translation, i guess, it's the way he really was...?

    1. Mudpuddle,

      Thanks for posting the poem. I hadn't seen that one before. I had read that Li Po was the most famous of the "drunken poets," so apparently there were several poets known for their celebration of the vine.

  2. Here is a purely subjective reader response: mind altering substances nearly killed me once upon a time, so I have an aversion to Li Po's lyric. But isn't that often the essence of reading: personal reaction? I regret that I cannot read this one more favorably. Now that probably was not the kind of reaction you anticipated. Right?

    1. Tim,

      Yes and no. I did expect some strong reaction to a poem that celebrates drunkenness, but I would never have guessed from where it would come.

      I see no benefits arising from being drunk, except for being only a temporary escape from reality. The same holds true for the sense of illusory enlightenment brought on by LSD or peyote or any of the other mind-altering drugs.

    2. Fred and Tim: according to Arthur Waley, who should know if anyone does, LiPo wasn't that great of a drunk... he says it was a metaphorical method, at the date, intended to convey the quality and condition of enlightenment, which, as i've indicated previously, has to do with living in the moment and recognizing one's surround as essentially "mu", meaning vacant, or empty.... this resulting from realizing the insubstantiality of what we know as reality...

    3. Mudpuddle,

      Drunkenness seems to me to be a strange "metaphorical method . . . intended to convey the quality and condition of enlightenment,"

  3. Metaphor for enlightenment... But reads either way

    1. Mary,

      Yes, I find that good literature and good poetry can be read several ways, depending upon the reader.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting.