We cannot wash away our worries with wine or words.
This is the short two line message Li Bai conveys in a long poem called, Farewell to Uncle Yun at Xietiao Tower in Xuanzhou. The message is remarkable for the repetition of the “chou” sound which, in line one, means withdraw 抽 Chōu, followed by the similar sounding word for water, 水 Shuǐ. The context being to withdraw one’s sword to cut the water. Line two repeats the sound with the repetition of worry 愁 Chóu. 愁更愁, chou geng chou, worry upon worry, the idea being that worries beget more worries.
Though I withdraw my sword to cut the water, it still runs
I toast to dispel worry, and create more worry…
The water still flows, though we cut it with our swords,
And sorrow returns, though we drown it with wine…
Li Bai in Xuanzhou with Shūyún
The Title: 宣州谢朓楼饯别校书叔云
Xuānzhōu xiètiǎo lóu jiànbié xiào shū shūyún.
Shūyún 叔云, was Li Bai’s uncle Shū 叔. He was an archivist in the Xietao Tower (lóu 楼, storied building) in Xuānzhōu. Xiào shū 校书, literally school book, but also an archivist or librarian. The title and full poem are an oblique reference to the rhyming 5th century poet Xiè tiǎo.
Jiànbié 饯别 is a farewell or parting; broadly speaking, to give a farewell dinner.
Chinese and Pinyin
chou dao duan shui shui geng liu
ju bei xiao chou chou geng chou
俱怀逸兴壮思飞，欲上青天揽明月。(揽 一作：览；明月 一作：日月)
This poem is the author’s farewell at Xie Tiao’s upstairs in Xuanzhou. The poet is full of feelings, not only full of pride and pleasure, but also can not hide the depression and injustice. The feelings of the poet return to ups and downs. The language is clear, like blurting out, and the tone is soaring.
At the beginning of this poem, it does not write about buildings, nor say goodbye, but rises steeply and stands on the wall to express depression. “Yesterday’s day” and “today’s day” refer to many “yesterday” and “today” that left me behind. That is to say, every day I feel that the sun and the moon are not living, the time is hard to stay, I am upset, worried and depressed. It not only contains the spiritual anguish of “Don’t follow the path of success, but also reflects the poet’s feelings about the dirty political reality.”. His “worry” does not start from “today”, and his “worry” does not end. It can be said that this is an artistic summary of his long-term political experiences and feelings. The breadth and intensity of sorrow and indignation reflect the increasing corruption of the government since Tianbao and the increasing embarrassment Li Bai has suffered personally. The intense spiritual distress caused by the sharp contradiction between ideal and reality has found a suitable form of expression here. The starting point of breaking through the void, overlapping and repeated language (both saying “abandon me” and “don’t stay”; both saying “disturb my heart” and “worry more”), as well as the sentence pattern of 11 characters, all vividly show the poet’s deep depression, intense anxiety and anger, chaos of mind, and emotional state that is triggered and unstoppable.
“The long wind sends the autumn geese far away, so you can enjoy the high buildings.” Two sentences made a sudden turn: while facing the vast and clear autumn sky, looking at the magnificent scenery of wild geese blowing by the long wind, I could not help but arouse the pride and leisure of drinking tall buildings. These two sentences show a magnificent and bright picture of the autumn sky in front of the readers, and also show the poet’s bold and broad mind. From extreme depression to the bright and magnificent realm, it seems that the change is unreasonable and inconceivable. But this is exactly why Li Bai is Li Bai. It is precisely because he always harbors lofty ideals and ambitions, and has been oppressed by the dark and dirty environment for a long time, so he always yearns for the vast space that can be freely galloped. Seeing the scene of “seeing off the autumn geese in the long wind”, one feels that one’s spirit is refreshed and worries are swept away, and one feels a kind of comfort that the heart and the scene agree with. The feeling of “drinking in tall buildings” also arises spontaneously.
“Penglai article Jian’an bone, in the middle Xie Qingfa.” Two farewell sentences from the high building are written for both the host and the guest. In the Eastern Han Dynasty, scholars called Dongguan (the government’s book collection organization) the Penglai Mountain of Taoism, and most people in the Tang Dynasty used Pengshan Mountain. Pengge refers to the secretary province, and Li Yun is the proofreader of the secretary province. Therefore, “Penglai article” here refers to Li Yun’s article. Jian’an Bones refer to the vigorous and vigorous “Jian’an Bones”. The last sentence praises Li Yun for his vigorous style, while the next sentence refers to himself as “Xiao Xie” (Xie Tiao), saying that his poems, like Xie Tiao, have a fresh and beautiful hair style. Li Bai highly esteems Xie Tiao. He compares himself to Xie and shows confidence in his talent. These two sentences naturally relate to Xie Tiao Building and the book proofreading in the title.
“We all want to go up to the sky and catch the moon.” The two sentences further exaggerate the interest of both sides by saying that they both have lofty feelings and ambitions. They are also intoxicated and eager to fly, hoping to climb the sky and catch the moon. The front side writes about the clear day and autumn sky, but here it says “bright moon”, which shows that the latter is not a real scene. The “desire to go up” cloud also shows that it is the heroic words of the poet when he is in high spirits. Bold and unrestrained and naive have been harmoniously unified here. This is Li Bai’s character. It is a popular saying to see the moon in the sky, which may not have any implication, but the image of flying and vigorous makes readers clearly feel the poet’s yearning for the lofty ideal realm. These two sentences are full of words and words, which bring the high spirited emotion aroused by the state of “sending autumn geese in the long wind thousands of miles” to the climax, as if all the darkness and filth in the reality have been swept away, and all the worries in the mind have been forgotten.
The metaphor of “cutting off the water and making the water flow more” is strange and original, and at the same time, it is natural and appropriate and full of life. In front of Xie Tiao’s building is the Wanxi River, which flows all the year round. The endless water and endless worries are easily associated, so naturally, the strong desire to relieve worries leads to the idea of “cutting off the water”. Because the metaphor is closely related to the immediate scene, it has more or less the meaning of “Xing”, which makes reading it feel natural. Although the inner anguish cannot be relieved, the detail of “cutting through the water” vividly shows the demand of the poet to get rid of the mental anguish, which is obviously different from those who are addicted to the anguish and cannot extricate themselves.
“Life is not satisfactory in this world, and the Ming Dynasty was busy making boats.” The contradiction between Li Bai’s ideal of progress and the dark reality could not be solved under the historical conditions at that time. Therefore, he was always trapped in the depression of “unsatisfactory”, and could only find a way out of the depression of “spreading out and making boats”. Of course, this conclusion is somewhat negative, and even contains an element of escapism. However, history and the social class he represented stipulated that he could not find a better way out.
Li Bai’s value lies in that he did not give up his pursuit of the ideal of progress despite the heavy pressure of depression on his spirit. The poem is still full of heroic and generous feelings. The two sentences of “Changfeng” and “Juhuai” are more like playing a high optimistic tone in the pathetic music, revealing the brilliant and bright glow in the dark clouds. The two sentences of “draw a knife” also express strong depression and stubborn character. Therefore, the feeling of the whole poem is not gloom and despair, but the heroic spirit in sorrow, anger and depression. This shows that the poet does not yield to the oppression of the environment, nor to the weight of his heart.
The whole poem is like a song, full of ups and downs of emotion, profound charm, twists and turns, ups and downs of organization, ups and downs without reason, intermittent and traceless, clear and plain language, soaring tone, reaching the realm of harmony and unity between bold and unconstrained and nature. ▲