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A Difficult Journey 1

Li, Bai (701-762 CE)
The fine wine in a golden cup is worth ten thousand coins,
As are the delicacies on a jade plate.
I push aside the cup and lay down my chopsticks
Because I do not have any appetite.
I draw out my sword, look around, and feel puzzled 2.
When I want to sail across the Yellow River,
It is filled with ice.
When I want to climb Tai-hang Mountain,
It is covered with deep snow.
In my leisure time I fish beside a creek.
Once I dreamed that I sailed a boat close to the sun 3.
The journey is difficult.
The journey is difficult.
I am dithering at a crossroad
And wonder which road I should take.
Someday my boat will ride a long-lived wind and break waves.
Then I will cross the sea hoisting the towering sail 4.


1 The poem was written in 744 CE, a day before Li was forced to leave the capital, Chang-an. The banishment disappointed and frustrated him. Li was under a good deal of pressure.

2 "A Difficult Journey" is the name of a melody. Its content often describes hardship or the sorrow of separation. In "A Difficult Journey", an earlier poet Zhao Bao wrote, "Facing the table I cannot eat./ I draw my sword, strike a pillar, and heave a long sigh." Li ingeniously rephrases these two lines.

3 Before Shang L met Emperor Wen-wang of the Zhou dynasty, he was fishing at Pan Creek, a tributary of the Wei River. Soon after he became Emperor Wen-wang's prime minister. Before Yin Yi was appointed prime minister by Emperor Tang of the Shang dynasty, he dreamed that he sailed a boat close to the sun and the moon. These two stories suggest that both men were confident about their future. This was true for L even though he failed to acquire a government position until he was eighty.

4 This line and the previous one say that Li痴 frustrations enhanced his confidence about his future.