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Li Bai’s Poetry



Introduction

Li Bai was one of the most extraordinary representatives of Chinese literature. His works are controversial to many people, though some of his poems are considered the greatest heritage of the Tang Dynasty period in poetry. He is one of the most respectful poets of his time, even though he used to go beyond the limits of usual life and poetry itself. His oeuvre is full of traditional elements of Daoism and many survived works can prove this fact.

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Before analyzing the works, it is crucial to investigate the notion “Daoism” and its characteristic features. Daoism is often called Taoism, which includes the issues of psychology and philosophy. Lao-tze is considered the founder of Daoism. At the very beginning, all his works were devoted to the search of the way, which could help to avoid wars and conflicts, widely occurring at those times. The book of verses is the literary heritage of Lao-tze. The ideas of the doctrine were expressed with a set of literary devices, such as rhyme, rhythm, paradox, analogy, symmetry, and repetition, among many others. After some time, philosophic Daoism was enriched with the religious branch. The religion included alchemy, astronomy, and divination. The position of these studies is very strong and eventually demonstrates the main goal of Daoism as a religion. The message is that people can reach longevity and immortality with permanent meditations, breathing exercises, medicines, and talismans. Talismans appeared as a result of shamanism in the religion.

Considering the historic perspective, a lot of changes occurred in this religion and, as a result, many ideas and branches appeared, which are not exact and have nothing concise. Nevertheless, the religion itself is peaceful and tolerant. People that have accepted the philosophy of Daoism feel themselves comfortable with other religions. They just work hard to get longevity and immortality.

One of the students of Daoism and one of the most prominent writers in Chinese literature was Li Bai. A lot of nicknames were given to him. He was called “Wine Immortal,” “Poet Transcendent,” “Immortal Exiled from Heaven,” and “Poet Knight-Errant”. He is said to have written more than one thousand poems, but it is not known for sure as often it is very difficult to recognize the authority of the poems. Li Bai’s works were dedicated to love and natural beauty, war and death. Many of poems also contained the descriptions of certain geographical places as the author traveled a lot during his life. People liked this poet a lot. One of the reasons of such popularity can be the love of Chinese people to ancient places. The style of the Li Bai’s writing was not usual in his times. He wrote the free-form poetry with the features of the ancient style. The regulated poetic style at that time was the Shi style. The distinguishing trait of the author’s works was the focus on the daily routine. He covered the themes of people’s everyday life. It can be another reason for folk appreciation of his poems.

Li Bai’s life was very eventful. He was the friend of Emperors, was sentenced to exile; he was given a position in Hanlin Academy, though he spent only few years there. It was a person who appreciated freedom and his wandering type of life. He put any boundaries before himself when it was the matter of desires, and did what he wanted for living the life completely. He became a Daoist, because the concepts of Confucianism and Buddhism were less romantic, and he disagreed with them.

One of the Daoists’ values is the objection to the war. The representatives of the doctrine value each human being and also have a very peaceful outlook. They think the fighting can be used only in case of an absolute necessity. These attitudes can be observed in the lines of the following Li Bai’s poem,

A Song of An Autumn Midnight

A slip of the moon hangs over the capital;

Ten thousand washing-mallets are pounding;

And the autumn wind is blowing my heart

For ever and ever toward the Jade Pass....

Oh, when will the Tartar troops be conquered,

And my husband come back from the long campaign!

On the basis of the given poem, one more distinguishing feature of Li Bai’s poetry can be recognized. In his poems, he often took different perspectives and viewpoints. This distinguishing feature of writing is demonstrated in the poem under discussion. There is the perspective of a woman here. At his time, it was inappropriate for a man to take the woman viewpoint. Nevertheless, it is not the only boundary, which the poet had broken.

A strong element of Taoism is demonstrated by the sentimentalism features. The following extract represents the Daoism idea concerning the perfection of a human being as part of the perfect nature. The description of a woman also features sentiments associated with Daoism.

A Song of Pure Happiness I

Her robe is a cloud, her face a flower;

Her balcony, glimmering with the bright spring dew,

Is either the tip of earth's Jade Mountain

Or a moon- edged roof of paradise.

The spontaneous tone is inherent to Daoism and poems by Li Bai, as well. The next lines are among the most famous in Chinese literature and provide the example of the covered feature.

Li Bai

White King City I left at dawn in the morning glow of the clouds,

The thousand-mile journey to Jiang Ling, completed in a single day,

On either shore the gibbons' chatter sounds without pause,

While my light boat skims past thousands of crags.

The idea of wandering is represented in those lines, as well. Li Bai used to travel a lot, discovering and admiring new places. Such way of life allowed Li Bai to see different sides of life. Correspondingly, the poet described all his observations in his poems, enriching the facts of usual life with sentimental and romantic details.

One more characteristic feature of the extraordinary poet is described by his contemporary, Chinese poet Du Fu. Du Fu wrote about Li Bai as about capricious person. The poet also emphasized the role of wine in Li Bai’s life and oeuvre. Li Bai often got his inspiration after drinking wine. He is believed to be a member of the group of Chinese scholars, called the "Eight Immortals of the Wine Cup". The community was founded in Shangan. He is recognized not only for his love to wine, but for the number of works dedicated to alcohol.

Undoubtedly, such behavior of the poet led to numerous convictions on the moral background. Nevertheless, the outlook of the poet also was the result of the Daoism ideas of tolerance and no need to improve oneself. In addition, no one who drank as much as the poet did, wrote so many verses.

The personality of Li Bai, one of the greatest representatives of the Tang Dynasty period in poetry is very extraordinary. His style of writing contained the features not appropriate to his time, but attracted a lot of attention and admirations of both simple people and Emperors. Li Bai’s poems have a lot of features of Daoism as the poet himself was a student of this school. The doctrine had a great influence on what he wrote during his life. He described the beauty of nature and its state beyond improvement. He widely incorporated sentimental pieces and, in such a way, made his poems popular among the common auditorium. He used a lot of literary devices and different perspectives (including women’s) in addition to his imagination, rich language, and romantic approach. The main topics besides the joys of drinking included the themes of friendship, nature, passage of time, and solitude.

Summary

Whether Li Bai is a genius or not is not known for sure but his works are still studied by a lot of people worldwide. Though the personality of the poet is rather controversial, he has been well-known among many generations and undoubtedly will be discussed in the following ages. Summarizing the cultural inheritance of Li Bai, it should be admitted that he did not spend his life in vain and not only left a lot of works with distinguishing style, but also broadened the views on poetry by breaking the existing boundaries. His themes are still burning in modern times, and the approach is rather extraordinary. The influence of Daoism on the works and life of the poet is one of the major ones.

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