Please Drink Wine 1

Li, Bai   (701 A.D.-762 A.D.)

Don't you see? The water of the Yellow River comes from the sky.
It rushes to the sea and never comes back 2.
Don't you see? The splendid mirror in the grand hall laments gray hair.
Hair is like green silk in the morning,
But it turns white like snow in the evening.
One should enjoy life to the best of one's ability.
Do not leave gold chalices empty under the moon.
God sent me to this world for a purpose.
A hundred pounds of gold spent will return to me again.
Let us grill a lamb, butcher a cow, and enjoy ourselves for a moment.
Once we meet, we must toast each other 300 times.
Mr. Cen and Rev. Yuan 3, please drink wine and refill our cups often.
I would like to sing a song for you.
Please lend an attentive ear to my song.
Bells, drums 4, and gourmet meals are not worth treasuring.
I wish I could remain drunk and never awaken.
All wise men have been lonesome since ancient times.
Only drunkards 5 leave behind a good reputation.
In the Wei dynasty, the King of Chen held a party at Ping-le Temple.
They drank wine that cost 10,000 dollars per liter
And enjoyed themselves to the utmost 6.
Why do you say that we are short of money?
My thoroughbred horse, my thousand-dollar coat;
I send someone to exchange them for good wine.
You and I may drink away our long lasting sorrow 7 together.

1 This poem was written in 752 A.D. when Li traveled to the States of Liang and Song and met his friends, Dan-qiu Yuan and Xun Cen. (Liang was one of the nine states into which China was divided under Emperor Yu in the Xia dynasty. It included present day Hubei Province and a part of present day Sichuan Province. Song was a state during the Warring States Period. It included the region to the east of present day Shang-qiu County in Henan Province and to the west of present day Tong-shan County in Jiangsu Province.) Actually, Li roamed about these two states because his colleagues in the emperor’s court isolated and harassed him. This pressure forced Li to leave the capital. He was indignant about the seamy side of society and the successful careers of crafty officials. Since the government would not use his talent, Li was unable to fulfill his political dreams. However, he was unwilling to die without a great accomplishment. Therefore, he often drank wine to diffuse his sorrow. Li was glad to serve wine to his friends this time. With wine to warm up the conversation, Li was able to vent his deep feeling as much as he pleased. The power and beauty of his expression made this poem of his an instant classic.

2 These two lines imply that times past will not come back.

3 Rev. Yuan was a Taoist.

4 Bells and drums were instruments for music bands that rich people hired for parties held in their mansions.

5 “Drunkards” refer to Yuan-ming Tao and Ji Ruan during the Jin dynasty. Yuan-ming Tao was a great pastoral poet who forgot himself and his surroundings after becoming drunk. Ji Ruan avoided a disaster by means of being drunk.

6 The King of Chen refers to Zhi Cao. Ping-le Temple was a Taoist temple (Ping means peaceful; le means happy). It was built during Emperor Ming's reign in the Han dynasty. The poem "The Famous City", written by Zhi Cao, says, "I came back to have a party in Ping-le Temple./ Delicious wine cost 10,000 dollars per liter."

7 "Sorrow" refers to unrecognized talent.