Thursday, February 19, 2015

Li Po is Bringing in the Wine for Year of the Sheep


Is it the Year of the Sheep or the Year of the Goat? Anybody up for Year of the Ram?

It may even be the Year of the Antelope! Whereas we have all these different words in English for all these animals, the Chinese word — yáng — is a generic word that encompasses all of the above. We'll never know which one the keepers of the zodiac were thinking of at the time. It's enough to drive a man to drink! And if you are going to celebrate Chinese New Year there is no better drunk or poet to celebrate with than Li Po.

We couldn't find a Li Po poem referencing a goat but we did find one referencing a sheep so we will raise our glass and toast Li Po and the Year of the Sheep by bringing in the wine!


Bringing in the Wine

See how the Yellow River's waters move out of heaven.
Entering the ocean, never to return.
See how lovely locks in bright mirrors in high chambers,
Though silken-black at morning, have changed by night to snow.
...Oh, let a man of spirit venture where he pleases
And never tip his golden cup empty toward the moon!
Since heaven gave the talent, let it be employed!
Spin a thousand pieces of silver, all of them come back!
Cook a sheep, kill a cow, whet the appetite,
And make me, of three hundred bowls, one long drink!
...To the old master, Cen,
And the young scholar, Danqiu,
Bring in the wine!
Let your cups never rest!
Let me sing you a song!
Let your ears attend!
What are bell and drum, rare dishes and treasure?
Let me be forever drunk and never come to reason!
Sober men of olden days and sages are forgotten,
And only the great drinkers are famous for all time.
...Prince Chen paid at a banquet in the Palace of Perfection
Ten thousand coins for a cask of wine, with many a laugh and quip.
Why say, my host, that your money is gone?
Go and buy wine and we'll drink it together!
My flower-dappled horse,
My furs worth a thousand,
Hand them to the boy to exchange for good wine,
And we'll drown away the woes of ten thousand generations!


— Li Po


Alternately known as Li Bai (701-762) the great Taoist philosopher and poet Li Po roamed China as a young man enjoying life and drink. Summoned by his benefactor the Emperor Xuanzong to the royal palace, a drunken Li Po improvised fantastic love poems that temporarily kept him in good stead.

Following his dismissal from the royal court Li Po continued with his vagabond ways. One romantic legend has Li Po drowning after falling into the water in an attempt to embrace the moon. On the occasion of Chinese New Year and the Year of the Sheep...or Goat we soberly recall the poetry of the inimitable Li Po.