Discovering the Charm of Chinese Poetry (Part 2): Truthfulness in Li Bai';s Casual and Carefree Life Style

Wang Yifeng

PureInsight | August 5, 2002

“Down the green Zhongnan Mountain after sunset,
Moonlight was my homeward escort.
Looking back, I saw my path
Stretching into the intense greenness.

I met and walked hand-in-hand with a friend to his farmhouse.
Children came out and opened the gate made of the vines of thorns.
We walked through a lane between jade-green bamboos
And billows of green vines caressing my sleeves.

In the pleasant chatting with my friend I found relaxation.
We drank and talked about everything.
We sang to the tune of the wind in the pines
Until few stars were hanging overhead in the night sky.
I became drunk and my friend appeared happier than ever.
Between the two of us we forgot the rest of the world.”

“Down from the Zhongnan Mountain to a Friend,” by Li Bai

“Down from the Zhongnan Mountain to a Friend” is a graceful idyll. The poem vividly portrays the picturesque pastoral countryside under the moon, a delightful evening with a genuine friend, and Li Bai’s casual and contented lifestyle. When reading these lines, you feel as if Li Bai is about to step out from this poetic picture and at the same time you are about to walk right into the scene. The style of this poem is typical of the Tang Dynasty’s poetry, replete with picture images. Paintings of this time period also have the quality of a good poem. The lifestyle depicted here is simple, tranquil, and almost like a reverie.

Another appealing aspect of the poem’s style is that each scene contrasts as well as complements the next. For example, the warm reception at the gate contrasts with the cool shade of the path, and the jumping and laughing of the children contrasts with the leisurely steps and sounds of the leaves in the shady path. This creates a very dramatic effect. In addition, the poem draws a vivid mental picture of the dusk, the bright moon over the landscape, the purity in the children, as well as the green bamboos and billows of green wisteria on the garden trail. You can almost breathe in the refreshing garden fragrance.

The last verse is the climax of the poem. The two men thoroughly enjoy themselves, like fish swimming happily in the water. Li Bai portrays the entire scene splendidly and with only a few words. This is one of the most precious moments in one’s life, when a friendship is in perfect harmony. Such a perfect moment can only be encountered but cannot be pursued. There are many beautiful paintings in this poem and each painting is very colorful and full of life. There are genuine feelings intertwine with natural landscapes in this portrait of an idyllic life that charms us all.

It is true that genuine feelings permeate the poem. But, the real charm is in the feeling of “Truthfulness,” which is a manifestation of the poet's true natural spirit. Li Bai felt and expressed the truth of the surrounding nature. He felt and depicted the innocence and purity in the true characteristics of the children. In addition, he rendered the sincerity in the spiritual exchange between the two kindred spirits.

“Down from the Zhongnan Mountain to a Friend” is an impressionistic portrait of truthfulness that is not only romantic, yet rational but also lyrical and picturesque. It brings us into a world that seems almost real, and so pleasant that we do not wish to return to reality. By the time Li Bai had written this poem he had landed a high government position as an academician, and was famous nationwide for his poetry. Apparently, he longed for the innocence and serenity of this lifestyle instead of a court life. It is Li Bai’s expression of his true nature that makes his poems forever charming and refreshing to readers of all time periods.

Everyone has an inborn nature of “Truthfulness.” When we are in natural surroundings, we instantly feel our spirits refreshed because the truthful side of us begins to communicate with nature. At the same time, we feel at ease when telling the truth and sheepish when telling lies, because truth always calls the truthful side of us and restrains us from falsehood. When we tell the truth, we comply with the characteristic of life. When we tell lies, we violate the characteristic of life. When a person is on the way to truthfulness, he will feel himself continuously elevated to higher levels till he has restored his true self.

My closing remark to Li Bai’s poem is: To return to one’s ultimate home is to return to his true self.

Translated from

Add new comment