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Farewell to Uncle Yun 1 at Xie-tiao Tower in Xuan-zhou City 2 (753 CE)

Li, Bai (701-62 CE)

That which has abandoned me is the irrevocable past;
That which troubles my mind is the sorrowful present 3.
Long winds escort the autumn geese for a thousand miles 4.
This scene invites us to drink at this tall tower.
Your essays are as broad and profound as those in the classics collected at Peng-lai Mountain 5
And they are as vigorous and powerful as the Jian-an style of writing 6.
My poetry is elegant, graceful and unrestrained like that of Tiao Xie.
We are both in a creative mood that inspires our imaginations to fly high
As if we were ascending the blue sky to pluck the bright moon.
I draw a sword and cut the flowing water,
But it only flows more violently 7.
I hold the wine cup to banish my sorrows
But only become more upset.
There is no hope to realize my dreams during my lifetime.
It is better to let my hair loose and float in a flat boat 8.


1 Yun Li, Bai Li's uncle, was an editor at the Bureau of Archives.

2 Xie-tiao Tower was built by poet and mayor Tiao Xie of Xuan-zhou City in the Kingdom of Southern Qi around 500 CE. A person's name in China is pronounced last name first, the first name second. Xuan-zhou City is now called Xuan-cheng-xian City and is located in Anhui Province.
    Bai Li was banished from the emperor's court by corrupt influential officials in 744 CE. This poem expressed his pent-up emotions. He had the talent to save the corrupt government, but he had no opportunity to use it.

3 "That which troubles my mind" refers to the conflict between his ambitions and his frustrations rather than sorrow due to his separation from his uncle.

4 This line not only refers to the fact that Bai Li saw his uncle off, but also naturally and elegantly suggests that his passion escorts his lofty aspirations. As one sees one's guest off, one usually escorts the guest for a short distance.

5 It was said that Peng-lai Mountain was a heavenly mountain where gods collected secret records and classical books. Chinese scholars often referred to the library in the Eastern Palace as Peng-lai Mountain. The people of the Tang dynasty frequently used Peng-lai Mountain to represent the Bureau of Archives.

6 "The Jian-an style of writing" refers to the writing style established and promoted by Prime Minister Cao Cao, his sons, and the Seven Great Writers during the Jian-an Period (196-219 CE).

7 This line and the previous one say that he cannot separate himself from the frustrations pursuing him.

8 At first glance, this line seems to say that Li tried to avoid reality by living in seclusion. In fact, it is intended to convey that Li protested the corruption that emerged after state power fell to crafty sycophants.