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  • Writer's pictureYiming Sun

High Tang poem: Hard is the Journey IV, VI -- LI Bo

  1. What do you see as some of the major differences between the two groups of poems? You can address both the form of the poems and their content.

  2. Do you personally feel that poetry of the Southern Courts is superficial and pays too much attention to surface appearances? If yes, why? If not, why not?

  3. What do you feel High Tang poems are able to say when it comes to the personality of the poet and their morality?

Yiming Sun April 2022

1.Hard is the Journey- Li Bo translated by Stephen Owen-P51

Owen, Stephen.1981.The GreatAge of Chinese Poetry : The High T'ang. New Haven Conn Yale University Press.


I want to compare Bao Zhao's"Hard Traveling" and Li Bo's poem "Hard is the Journey". Both poems express the authors' lofty ideals and ambitions as well as their bitter emotions of being unappreciated. The two poems share many similarities in content. In Li's poem "Hard is the Journey", "I lay my chopsticks down, no more can banquet.And draw my sword and stare wildly about me", is similar to Bao Zhao's "l face the table, I cannot eat,I draw my sword,I strike the post and have a long sign."in Hard Travelling IV that they describe the same scene of too trouble to eat. Meanwhile, Li Bo's description of consecutive actions vividly shows his inner depression and emotional upheaval. On Another sentence from"Hard is the Journey", " Ice bars my way to cross theYellow RiverSnows from dark skies to climb the Taihuang Mountain". Li Bo uses Bao Zhao's images of the long river blocked by ice, the mountains full of snow from another poem to symbolize the difficulties and obstacles on the road of life. Li Bo also learned format and rhyme from Bao Zhao's"Hard Traveling".In Bao Zhao's Hard Traveling which proves that people are consciously exploring the path of poetry development, he used the old Yuefu theme but developed a new style: broke the five-word format and added variations to rhyme. Li Bo learned from him, presented in the repeated use of three words clause "Hard is the Journey, Hard is the Journey" which emphasized the feelings again and again in a sharp tone. Also, the use of "River' and"Mountain" in interlaced rhymes makes the poem have a better cadence and more easy to sing.

The similarity in content could be attributed to the resemblance of their life experiences. Bao came from a poor family, but the political system at that time allowed only the rich and powerful people to get into the government. Such a historical context prevented him from realizing his ambitions.Although he is sensitive and frustrated as he stated: "My heart is not of wood or stone, how can I help being moved", the involuntary he experienced in his political career made him rational and restrained. While he resents, he stopped short in his criticism."I wave, swallow back my voice, and dare not speak a sound.", which expressed the contradiction between his mind and his action.Li Bo's situation was similar to Bao Zhao's that he was forced to leave the capital Chang'an. As they both complained about their situation, Li Bo had a more generous and positive attitude which was of higher artistic quality and reflected romanticism and realism. He was indignant, Li Bo was more confident about himself and expected for the future. At the end of the poem, he wrote, "So when a breeze breaks waves. bringing fair weatherIset a cloud for sails, cross the blue oceans." Although the road ahead is diffcult, he believed that he would succeed in fulflling his dream one day.


After the development of Buddhist poetry in the Eastern Jin Dynasty, most of the poetry of the Southern Courts is superficial. The first reason was that the society in the Southern Dynasty was stable and after the material conditions were satisfied, people began to improve their aesthetic ability. So they travelled and wrote a lot about the scenery. In addition, the trend of seeking stability in politics made people not motivated. In the context of the prevalence of Buddhism, people indulge in fake balance and cover up their ideological numbness with the splendour of the poem.

The second reason is related to the political system. With the fall of the upper class. elites from the upperclass became insensitive to social problems and focused their ambitions on the beauty of natural scenery and architecture rather than on national policies. On the other hand the lower intelligentsia, who still held political ambitions, had little access to the court, thus their talents were restrained.

The third reason is that in the later period of the Liang Dynasty, the poems created by Xiao Gang and other royal families vividly displayed the indulgent life of aristocrats, which brought an ostentatious social atmosphere and produced a large number of delicate poems describing surface appearance, especially about women.Poems become splendid. But only with this period of technical carving tang poetry can recognize the shortcomings and progress.


Among the poems of the High TangDynasty,Li Bo's poems are elegant and free, reflecting his innocent, forthright and unrestrained personality.l He is self-confident and romantic. His

contempt for dignities made his poems distinctive, but it the failure in his political career made his poems melancholic. Even though Li Bo didn't manage to realize his political ideals, he never lost faith in his future, so his poems have an optimistic and d romantic feeling, just ass he said at the end of"Hard Travelling", he believed that whatever problems he encountered would only serve as motivation for him to succeed.

1.Hard Traveling IV- Bao Zhao translated by Stephen Owen-P323

2.Hard Traveling VI- Bao Zhao translated by Stephen Owen-P324

Owen, Stephen. An Anthology of Chinese Literature: Beginnings to 1911. New York: W.W. Norton1997.

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