li bai: "bring in the wine!"

Today’s poem, “Bring in the Wine!” by famous Tang drunkard and poet Li Bai, was a real bitch to translate.

For one thing, it’s written in an irregular form with varying line-lengths and a looser rhyme scheme than usual. For another, some of the vocabulary strikes me as weird – specifically, the repeated use of 莫 instead of 不. This translation is pretty tentative, and not nearly as poetic as I’d like. (I’m very interested in feedback, criticizms, or outright demolitions of the translation — that’s what the comment section is there for.)

At any rate, as Kaiser noted, Li Bai was probably soused and partying like it was 699 when he wrote it.



Li Bai: “Bring in the Wine!”

Have you never seen
the Yellow River’s waters —
— how they surge from heaven to the sea, never turning back?
Have you never seen
how they grieve in palace mirrors over their hair —
— silky black at dawn, snowy white by dusk?
In this life, accomplishments should be enjoyed —
— raise you not an empty goblet toward the moon!
Heaven made me; I must have a use —
— I spend a thousand gold pieces; they’ll come back.
Boil a lamb! Butcher an ox! Let’s make merry!
We’ll drink three hundred cupfuls in one go.
— To Master Cen!
— To Scholar Danqiu!
Bring in the wine! Stop you not!
I’ll sing a song with you, if you’ll lend me an ear.
Gongs, drums, fine delicacies — they don’t do it for me.
Just let me be forever drunk, and never again awake.

Throughout the ages, the virtuous and holy have been passed over —
— It’s the drinkers that the world remembers!
The Prince of Chen, and the banquets he had at Ping-le —
— the wine was ten thousand a dipperful, and the fun never ended.

What kind of host would say he’s low on cash?
Go straight away and buy the wine — I’ll drink it with you.
My sleek horse,
My furs worth a thousand —
— call the boy, and have him pawn them for wine,
And we’ll drink away the cares of ten thousand ages.

Comments (9)

  1. John wrote::

    “Poem of the day”?

    Should we expect daily updates from now on? That would be an almost superhuman feat for you… :)

    Thursday, November 18, 2004 at 4:21 am #
  2. Prince Roy wrote::

    just who tranlated this poem? you, or e.e. cummings?

    Thursday, November 18, 2004 at 11:06 am #
  3. jeremy wrote::

    Chant down Babylon. I want one drunk Tang poem a day. From now until the day you return to China. And maybe after that as well. 革命无罪。

    Thursday, November 18, 2004 at 11:29 am #
  4. jg wrote::

    There are age metaphors – to me- and I like them.

    Thursday, November 18, 2004 at 4:12 pm #
  5. Brendan wrote::

    John – yeah, the idea is to do a new one every day. We’ll see how long that lasts; realistically, I give myself two weeks at the outside.

    Roy – oh, come on; the line breaks are implied by the original. I’m not a big fan of indentation (unless it’s e.e. cummings), but it seemed to work here. There are some awkward phrases that I’d like to try to smooth out, though, and it’d be nice if I could get it to rhyme loosely, though that may be too much to hope for.

    Jeremy – 造反有理。

    Gran – I’m planning on doing some poems by Bai Juyi next – “Bemoaning My Old Age: Three Poems.”

    Thursday, November 18, 2004 at 4:31 pm #
  6. smoker wrote::

    Copy you another version for your ref.:


    See how the Yellow River’s waters move out of heaven.
    Entering the ocean, never to return.
    See how lovely locks in bright mirrors in high chambers,
    Though silken-black at morning, have changed by night to snow.
    …Oh, let a man of spirit venture where he pleases
    And never tip his golden cup empty toward the moon!
    Since heaven gave the talent, let it be employed!
    Spin a thousand pieces of silver, all of them come back!
    Cook a sheep, kill a cow, whet the appetite,
    And make me, of three hundred bowls, one long drink!
    …To the old master, Cen,
    And the young scholar, Danqiu,
    Bring in the wine!
    Let your cups never rest!
    Let me sing you a song!
    Let your ears attend!
    What are bell and drum, rare dishes and treasure?
    Let me be forever drunk and never come to reason!
    Sober men of olden days and sages are forgotten,
    And only the great drinkers are famous for all time.
    …Prince Chen paid at a banquet in the Palace of Perfection
    Ten thousand coins for a cask of wine, with many a laugh and quip.
    Why say, my host, that your money is gone?
    Go and buy wine and we’ll drink it together!
    My flower-dappled horse,
    My furs worth a thousand,
    Hand them to the boy to exchange for good wine,
    And we’ll drown away the woes of ten thousand generations!

    Monday, November 22, 2004 at 11:34 am #
  7. Obio wrote::

    A co-worker just gave me a cloth-scroll of “Bring on the Wine” today. It only has four rows of the poem and I found that these four lines don’t really match up with many versions out there. I must have some shortened, edited and modernized version. Interesting.

    Thursday, December 23, 2004 at 10:32 am #
  8. Brendan wrote::

    Obio – could it perhaps be another poem with the same title?

    Friday, December 24, 2004 at 2:10 am #
  9. Kriti wrote::

    The translation helped me a lot for my english presentation

    Thursday, September 23, 2010 at 9:18 pm #