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Climbing the Shu Mountain Path is Difficult

Li, Bai 1 (701-762 CE)

Alas! The Shu Mountain Path is high and dangerous.
Climbing the Shu Mountain Path is as difficult as ascending to the blue sky.
The founding of the State of Shu by Can-cong and Yu-fu is lost in time.
Shu has had no contact with the State of Qin for the last 48,000 years
Even though they are neighboring countries.
Only birds can cross over E-mei Peak 2
By passing over Tai-bai Mountain 3 on Qin's western border.
Only after the ground collapsed, mountains were destroyed, and the Muscular Men 4 died,
Did a stone path, steep as a scaling ladder, connect Shu and Qin.
Above the path is a high beacon 5 that even the sun痴 chariot, drawn by six dragons 6, has to circle around.
Below the path is a winding river whose waves surge, clash, and churn at its turns.
Even yellow cranes 7 are unable to pass over the peak.
Apes 8 that wish to cross don't, because they worry about scaling the heights.
Why does the path on Qing-ni 9 Mountain coil so much?
It circles the rocky mountain and turns many times every hundred steps.
Looking up at Orion and Gemini 10, I hold my breath and try to reach them.
Beating my chest in frustration, I sit down with a deep sigh.
When will you return from traveling westward?
The dangerous path and precipitous rocks are not scalable.
All I see are sad birds crying among ancient trees.
Male birds, followed by females, swirl around the woods.
I also hear cuckoos 11 weeping beneath the night moon.
The empty mountain is filled with sorrow.
Climbing the Shu Mountain Path is as difficult as ascending to the blue sky.
If one hears these words, one's face will turn pale.
Less than a foot separates the series of peaks from the sky.
Withered pine trees hang upside down and lean on a precipice.
The flying rapids and the waterfall compete for percussion.
When the rapids strike rocks, the sound reverberates like thunder in many valleys.
Given the danger, why do you come here from afar?
The rocky summits near Jian-ge Pass 12 are steep and lofty.
One man garrisons the pass.
Ten thousand men cannot enter 13.
If the defender is not trustworthy,
He can be as harmful as jackals and wolves.
One who lives here must avoid fierce tigers in the morning,
And long snakes in the evening.
They sharpen their fangs, suck blood, and kill countless people.
Although Jing-cheng City 14 is a paradise,
I would rather hurry home.
Climbing the Shu Mountain Path is as difficult as ascending to the blue sky.
I turn sideways, look west, and heave a long sigh.


1 After Zhi-zhang He, a contemporary dignitary, read this poem, he admired Li痴 talent so much that he praised him as a god exiled to earth. This story led later generations to call Li "the God of Chinese Poetry".

2 E-mei Peak is in present day Sichuan Province.

3 Tai-bai Mountain is located southeast of present day Mei-xian City in Shaanxi Province.

4 The chapter titled "The Mythology of Shu" in The History of the State of Hua-yang says, "The King of the State of Qin married five beautiful young women to the King of Shu. The latter king sent five muscular men to welcome them. On their way back, when they arrived at Zi-tong County they saw a huge snake slither into a cave. The five muscular men grabbed its tail and pulled it out. As a result, the mountain collapsed, and all the people were crushed and killed. The originally tall mountain turned into five smaller mountains."

5 "The high beacon" refers to the highest summit of the mountain range.

6 According to Chinese mythology, the sun's driver, Xi-he, travels in the sky riding a chariot drawn by six dragons.

7 Yellow cranes are supposed to be good at high flight.

8 Apes are supposed to be good at climbing mountains.

9 "Qing" means green and "ni" means mud.

10 The ancient Chinese astronomers mapped the stars in the sky to certain regions in China. Shu corresponded to Orion and Qin corresponded to Gemini.

11 It was said that the soul of Yu Du, the last king of Shu, became a cuckoo after he died. Its voice was sad and seemed to say, "Bu-ru-gui-qu (would rather go home)."

12 Jian-ge ("Jian" means sword; "ge" means tower) Pass was located north of Jian-ge County and between Da-jian ("da" means large) Mountain and Xiao-jian ("xiao" means small) Mountain.

13 This line says that if the government were to fail to use the right people, they might dare to rebel if they were to possess this pass. The mistake could result in an enormous disaster. This poem was written before the decline of the Tang dynasty. Thus, these two lines indicate that Li cares about state affairs, has the foresight to see the danger of inappropriate appointments, and is providing a warning to the government.

14 Jing-cheng City is now called Cheng-du City, the capital of Sichuan Province.