Verse: Reading the News and Thinking of the T’ang Poets

by John Balaban

illustration by Ippy Patterson


When Li Po tried to climb T’ai-hang,

he found its passes choked with snow.

Thwarted, he turned back to lowlands,

to streams sliding through bare willows

where he sat and fished and wrote a poem.

When young, he was a hsia avenger,

righting wrongs with a spoon-headed sword.

Old, he settled things by sitting still.


Before the rebels took Ch’ang-an,

Tu Fu escaped the fabled city

where Christian, Jew, and Manichaean

held court with Buddhists.  The Emperor,

who wrote lyrics and composed, had fled.

Months later, crossing moonlit fields

stippled bright with human bones,

Tu Fu wrote that poetry is useless,

in a poem alive these thousand years.