About Li Ho, Old China’s “Ghost Poet” [791–817]

Yesterday received “The Poems of Li Ho”, Oxford Univ Press, 1970, JD Frodsham translator. Li Ho is known as China’s “Ghost Poet.” Has been called a “demoniac genius” and likened to Poe. I’ve read what (few) poems are available in various collections; intrigued, I decided to buy Oxford U’s complete collection (243 poems).

To me, Li Ho is a shaman. And he is more than dark; his poetry encompassed many things. Noble heart and soul, who died too young (age 27). He has become my favorite poet of Old China.

But I’m certainly not qualified to be a poetry critic. Here are the words of two men who are:

Tu Mu, 803–852, poet, regarding Li Ho’s poetry:

“The continuous softness of misty clouds is insufficient to describe its manner; the distant stretch of water is insufficient to describe its feelings; the gloriousness of spring is insufficient to describe its geniality; the bright limpidness of autumn is insufficient to describe its character; the mast of a ship extended against wind and horses at the battle-front are insufficient to describe its valor; a coffin made of tile and a tripod carved with seal scripts are insufficient to describe its antiquarianism; flowers in season and beautiful women are insufficient to describe its charms; a ruined kingdom and a crumbled palace, or an earthen mound overgrown with wild grass are insufficient to describe its rancor, enmity, sadness and sorrow; a whale yawning with its mouth open and a great tortoise leaping from the sea, or an ox-demon and a snake-god are insufficient to describe its exaggeration, absurdness, grostesqueness, and fantasy.”

Kuo-ch’ing Tu, author and scholar, born 1941:

“Li Ho’s poems are many-faceted both in style and in content. His poems constitute a crystal globe which, with his poetic mind as the heart, radiates the light and heat of his poetic worlds on all its surfaces. It is luminous, powered by the poet’s mind. In the poetic sky of the Tang Dynasty, Li Ho’s poetry sometimes glitters with a carefree combination of synaesthetic images that have puzzled many critics; sometimes it glimmers ghostlike in the wind and rain, making the blood run cold; sometimes it sparkles distantly like an eternal jewel against the darkness of the past; sometimes it glistens like morning dewdrops on the leaves, delicate and dazzling, pleasing to the aesthetic eye; and sometimes it reflects the realities of this earth, exposing life’s seamy underside and casting a clear light on human ugliness and greed.”

(This poet not to be confused with Li Po, aka Li Bai).

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