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A Feast of Lanterns, by L. Cranmer-Byng, [1916], at

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A.D. 706-765

The greatest of all the Chinese lyrists, Li Po was a child of Nature and subject like her to infinite moods. He may perhaps be called a pessimist, but not in the sense that we call Schopenhauer and his school pessimists. His was a pessimism of contrasts; the brighter the day, the darker the shadow. His fault, if so exquisite a lyricist may be said to possess one, was that he never looked beyond a single cycle. With him, the spring arrives, he sees summer lengthen into autumn, and autumn fall before winter; but there, for him, the cycle ends. There is no return of spring. Like so many of his great contemporaries, Tu Fu, Meng Hao Jan, and others, he bends low to catch a whisper of the past, some voice murmuring as in a dream from moonlit ruins foreboding the common lot of all.

It has been said of him that he had no cure for sorrow but the forgetfulness that lurks in the wine-cup. This is only true in part. When the littleness of man came into hopeless conflict with the vastness of destiny, there was but one way of escape for the poets and philosophers of China. It is called "the Return to Harmony"; it consists in identifying oneself with Nature. Chuang Tzu, the philosopher, knew this; Li Po, the poet, felt it; and here is the conclusion—the futility of the wine-cup and the call of great rivers:

In vain we cleave the torrent's thread with steel;
In vain we drink to drown the grief we feel.
When man's desire with fate doth war, this, this avails alone,
To hoist the sail and let the gale and the waters bear us on.

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So the poet, out of harmony with inexorable law, lets soul and body drift with the natural movements of the wind and the waves. Discord is silenced in the primitive music of the world.

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