In China, during the Tang Dynasty, over 2,000 poets wrote almost 50,000 poems.
The Tang was, for a time, a golden age for poets, full of inspiration and solace.
One emperor, Li Longji, believed the arts could be a kind of justice
uniting all society for a brief, creative moment.
Most citizens, and most poets, lived without fear of the future.
The name of the capital, Chang’ an, meant “Perpetual Peace.”
One of the most famous poets was Li Po, who arrived in Chang’ an
in the year 730, carousing, giving away money, and joyfully shouting his poetry.
He wrote of the beauty of plum blossoms and drunkenness, and cared little for the future,
finding, instead, inspiration and solace
in the freshness of the present moment.
To go rowing in the rain with wet hair, hatless, was, to Li Po, a simple, joyous “just this.”
When the emperor read Li Po’s work, he was struck by the power of “just this.”
The line “The peach blossom follows the moving water” spoke of a deep peacefulness,
and a way to live fully alive in any circumstance: by finding beauty moment by moment.
He summoned Li Po to the palace, and watched him compose and then launch his poems,
like little boats, into a stream — the poet’s wild joy gave him solace
for he had fears for his and his country’s future.
By the year 755 Li Po’s wild joy was a feeling few shared.
A rebellion brought a man with an utter lack of justness
to power, a man considered by many to be arrogant and soulless.
He banished Li Po from Chang’ an,
sentenced him to death — and yet Li Po continued to write: ten poems,
nine of which are lost, but the one that remains speaks of his torment
at being exiled, separated from his wife . . . but then, at the same moment,
a flock of wild geese fly south across the sky: their beauty obliterates the future.
Last year, in early November, I read that poem
when I was anxious and fearful, and needing of the wisdom of “just this.”
Poetry always provides me with peace,
inspiration and solace
whenever I’m faced with the uncertain, the soulless.
It was four in the morning, I reached for his book next to my bed, and in that moment
my sadness, anger and fears for the future
were transformed into feelings of companionship and peace.
The past was a dream, the present all there could ever be, and “just this”
the voice of a long-dead Chinese poet.
And so, in the future, I’ll turn again to Li Po, because his words hold more than inspiration
and solace — poetry is a long conversation with wise friends over time,
a kind of justice, a kind of peace.