Thursday, November 7, 2013

One Man's Maple Moon: A Tanka about Li Po by Larry Kimmel

English Original

that Li Po, drunk,
leaned over the boat’s side
to embrace the moon
and drowned . . . ?
sure, I believe it

Red Lights, 3:1, January 2007

Larry Kimmel

Chinese Translation (Traditional)

淹死了 ...?


Chinese Translation (Simplified)

淹死了 ...?

Bio Sketch

Larry Kimmel is a US poet. He holds degrees from Oberlin Conservatory and Pittsburgh University, and has worked at everything from steel mills to libraries. Recent books are Blue Night & the inadequacy of long-stemmed roses, this hunger, tissue-thin, and The Piercing Blue of Sirius. He lives with his wife in the hills of Western Massachusetts.

Editor's Note:

Li Po (or Li Bai) , the god of poetry reincarnate, was part of the group of Chinese scholars in Chang'an (the capital of Tang China) his fellow poet Du Fu called the "Eight Immortals of the Wine Cup." He is best known for his poems about the moon and wine. One of his most famous poems and a good example of his writing is his "Drinking Alone by Moonlight" (Chinese: 月下獨酌), which has been translated into English by various authors, including this translation, by Arthur Waley:

花間一壺酒。   A cup of wine, under the flowering trees;
獨酌無相親。   I drink alone, for no friend is near.
舉杯邀明月。   Raising my cup I beckon the bright moon,
對影成三人。   For he, with my shadow, will make three men.
月既不解飲。  The moon, alas, is no drinker of wine;
影徒隨我身。   Listless, my shadow creeps about at my side.
暫伴月將影。   Yet with the moon as friend and the shadow as slave
行樂須及春。   I must make merry before the Spring is spent.
我歌月徘徊。   To the songs I sing the moon flickers her beams;
我舞影零亂。   In the dance I weave my shadow tangles and break.
醒時同交歡。   While we were sober, three shared the fun;
醉後各分散。   Now we are drunk, each goes his way.
永結無情遊。   May we long share our odd, inanimate feast,
相期邈雲漢。   And meet at last on the Cloudy River of the sky.
(Note: the "Cloudy River of the sky" refers to the Milky Way)


  1. I'm impressed by Larry's thematically-focused account of the fanciful tradition regarding Li Po's death and by his strategically/rhetorically effective use of punctuation marks to form a thematically dialectical relationship between the two parts of the poem.

  2. For me, this tanka cries out to be read aloud because of the author's voice in the last line, it's a very tongue-in-cheek statement and you can imagine him sitting on a porch in the moonlight exchanging tales with an old pal.

    The scene portrayed of the drunken Li Po leaning from the boat to hug the moon and falling into the water is very visual - like slapstick comedy - and even though he is supposed to have drowned, it is very humorous.


  3. Marion:

    Yes, there is a shift in tone through Larry's effective collocation of '...?' and 'sure.'

    I enjoy reading your thoughtful comment. Thanks for sharing.


  4. Below is a relevant excerpt from Robert D. Wilson's essay, titled"An Evaluation and Introspective Look at the Haiku of Chen-ou Liu," which was first published Simply Haiku, 8:2, Autumn 2010

    no wine, reading
    Li Po


    Says Chen-ou:

    As an individual, Li Po was free-spirited. He took an unusual path in life and career. Well-traveled at a young age, he didn’t bother to take the Chinese civil service examination which was viewed as the only way to elevate one’s social status and guarantee their prosperity. He dared to challenge authority, and loved a good bottle of wine and making friends. His nonconformist personality characteristics continue to stand as a model for me to emulate.

    As a poet, Li Po is one of the most loved Chinese poets and his poems are widely taught in schools, memorized by children, and constantly recited on all sorts of occasions. The first poem I ever memorized was his “Thoughts in Night Quiet,” the best known of all Chinese poems, especially among Chinese living overseas:

    Seeing moonlight here at my bed,
    and thinking it's frost on the ground,

    I look up, gaze at the mountain moon,
    then back, dreaming of my old home.

    -- translated by David Hinton

    When I was six, my father recited this poem to me with watery eyes. At that time, he hadn’t seen his family for two decades since he came to Taiwan in 1949, with the defeated Chinese Nationalist Army. I memorized the poem and didn’t fully reflect upon its meaning in my heart and mind. Little was understood about the suffering endured by my father and his generation due to the Chinese Civil War. It was not until the seventh year since I emigrated to Canada that I’d experienced this pang of nostalgic longing explored in Li’s poem through the moon imagery – a symbol of distance and family reunion – portrayed in simple and evocative language. Since then, every time when I thought of my parents, my family, and my hometown, I recited “Thoughts in Night Quiet,” which is not only Li’s poem but also mine.

    More importantly, some of the recurring themes in Li’s poems appeal greatly to me, such as dreams, solitude/loneliness, and the passage of time, and they become the key motifs of my work. His skillful use of language, his great sensibility toward imagery, and his deep insights into the human condition through a Taoist lens capture nuanced human experience, which is the main goal I want to achieve in my writing.