Wu Mountain Is Tall 1

Li, He 2 (790-816 CE)

Green groves on Wu Mountain appear to touch the heavens.
Waves swell on the mighty river;
Mist trails behind gods.
The soul of the King of Chu seeks dreams through breezes 3.
Small discs of lichens grow under the morning wind and falling rain.
His jade beauty has been gone for a thousand years 4.
Old apes cry among lilac and bamboo trees.
The toads and laurel trees 5 in an ancient shrine feel cold
Because the height of the shrine is nearly that of the moon.
The petals of pepper blossoms fall among wet clouds.


1 After reading this poem, one may desire to view the follow video, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fs7Bse4Q4BQ&feature=fvw, to see how an ancient Chinese musician expresses his feeling regarding the grandeur of a mountain and the might of a river. The title of this piece of classic Chinese music is "Tall Mountains and Flowing Water".

2 Shang-yin Li wrote He Li’s biography. It says, "The following detailed information about He Li was provided by his elder sister who was married to Wang. He Li was thin. His two eyebrows were connected. His fingernails were long. He worked hard in writing poems and could write quickly with a brush. His literary talent was first recognized by Yu Han. Fan-yuan Wang, Jing-zhi Yang, Qu Quan, and Zhi Cui were his close friends. Every morning he went out with his friends at dawn. Their discussion would not be limited to one topic. They wrote poems in response to one another's improvisations. His young maid always followed him. Li often rode a fine donkey and carried an ancient colorful backpack. Whenever he had an idea, he would write it down on a piece of paper and throw the paper into his backpack. After he returned home at sunset, his mother would order her maid to take the papers out of his backpack. Li's mother usually found many writings. She would say, 'This child will not stop writing until his heart gives out.' After lighting a lamp and having his dinner, He Li would retrieve the papers from the maid and use them to write poems with a brush. After finishing his poems, he would store them in a bag. This was his daily routine unless he was completely intoxicated or attended a funeral that day. He never reviewed his poems. Sometimes his friends such as San-yuan Wang and Jing-zhi Yang visited him and copied down his poems. He Li often rode alone to Chang-an City or Lo-yang City. Sometimes he wrote poems during his journey, but he seldom kept them. Consequently, Poetry Collector Zi-ming Shen only found four volumes of He Li’s poems. When He Li was dying, he saw a pink-clothed messenger who rode a red dragon and carried the Jade Emperor's edict (the Jade Emperor is the Supreme Deity of Taoism). The edict was written in the seal characters of remote ancient times. He Li could not understand the edict. The messenger said that the Jade Emperor ordered him to summon He Li. Suddenly, Li rose from his bed and knelt before the messenger. He Li said, 'My mother is old and ill. I am unwilling to leave her.' The pink-clothed messenger smiled and said, 'The Jade Emperor built the White Jade Tower and appointed you to be his secretary. The work in heaven is not difficult.' He Li wept alone. All the people around him witnessed the event. Soon after He Li stopped breathing. There was a waft of smoke rising from his window. People could hear the sound of moving carriages and melodious flute music. His mother hastened to stop people’s crying. After a short while, He Li died. His sister did not fabricate his story. She just told what she had seen. Alas! Heavens are blue and tall. Is there a Creator living in heaven? Does He have a garden, palace, or pavilion for entertainment? If the answer is yes, then the height of the heavens and the dignity of the Creator should allow He Li to live in this world to enrich its literature. Why did the Creator miss He Li so much that He shortened Li's life span? Alas! Are gifted poets rare not only on earth but also in heaven? He Li died at the age of twenty-seven. He was only a low-ranking official on the Board of Rites. Most of his contemporaries rejected him. Why don't people appreciate gifted poets whom the Creator appreciates so much? Can human opinions surpass the Creator's?"
    Mu Du wrote a preface to The Collected Works of He Li. The preface says, "Chang-ji was He Li's alternate first name. During the Yuan-he Period, Yu Han highly praised He Li's poems very. The tenderness and entanglement of clouds and mist cannot begin to describe the lingering sentiments of Li's poems. A long river cannot begin to measure their passions. Spring's awakening cannot begin to describe their harmony. The brightness and cleanliness of the Autumn moon cannot begin to describe their nobility. The mast on a sailboat and war horses cannot begin to describe their valor. Blooming flowers and beautiful women cannot begin to describe their charms. Ruins and wastelands cannot begin to describe their resentment, complaint, sadness, and sorrow. The gape of a whale, the leap of a turtle or various evildoings of spirits and ghosts pale in comparison with their mythical stories. He Li's poems are the descendents of Encountering Sorrows (written by Yuan Qu, the Father of Chinese Poetry). Li’s poems may not as logical and virtuous as the ones in that work, however, some of his word choices are superior. Encountering Sorrows contains sorrows, satires, and laments. It has a virtuous theme and teaches people moral lessons. These were the goals toward which He Li aimed. Li studied historical events and lamented that people failed to learn lessons from them. His poem The Golden God Left the Han Palace is mythical and far from reality. It is difficult for readers to learn lessons from it. He Li died at the age of twenty-seven. If he had lived longer and strengthened his poems with a virtuous theme and strong reasoning, then Li's poems would surely have surpassed those in Encountering Sorrows."
    He Li was a native of Chang-gu City in present day Henan Province. "Once a rooster crows, the world is brightened" was a famous line in his poem, "Proposing a Toast". He Li's poetry is creative. It is not difficult to discover that many great poets during the Song dynasty frequently used Li’s ideas when they wrote poetry. Li's far-reaching influence on the poets of later generations established him as an important poet in Chinese history even though he died young.

3 It is said that the King of the State of Chu (c. 300 BCE) once visited Gao-tang Shrine and made love to a woman in his dream. She told him, "I am a goddess living south of Wu Mountain. Because the mountain is an obstacle between us, I will become morning clouds and travel as night rain to meet you at your balcony." This was a fiction fabricated by Song Yu. Its purpose was to advise a king not to seek pleasure.

4 The period between the time when the goddess appeared in the King of Chu's dream and the time when Li wrote this poem was about a thousand years.

5 In Chinese mythology, "toads and laurel trees" are the living beings that symbolize the moon.