Li Bai (701-762)

  • The drunken immortal

    Li Bai, also called Li Taibai, is one of the most important poets in Chinese history. He lived in the 8th century during the political and cultural zenith of the Tang Dynasty (618 - 907).

    In his two poems about Mount Taibai the poet tells of the mystical ascent of the mountain. The mountain represents the earthly correspondence of the planet Venus (chin. Taibai xing). Li Bai himself understands that he is a human incarnation of this planet.

    Li Bai moved in a world in which microcosm and macrocosm correspond. His ascent of the mountain is a metaphor for the ascent to transcendence. By placing himself in the axis between mountain and planet and walking up along it, the ascent of the mountain becomes an experience of enlightenment which enables him to recognise the Dao.

    Li Bai is often portrayed as a drunkard poet. But alcohol for him was not merely a simple source of intoxication but a Daoist mystical drug which played its own role in the knowledge of the Dao. With the help of this magical drink, Li Bai probably stayed - like a medium - in contact with the gods.

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    Audio: Two poems by Li Bai about Mount Taibai