Li Bai – A Reply to Wang Shier: On A Cold Night Drinking Alone While Thinking

Li Bai (李白, 이백, 701-762; Yi Baek) was one of the most famous Chinese poets in history. He was born during Tang Dynasty China, and was one of poets during the golden age of Chinese poetry, Du Fu (杜甫, 두보, 712-770; Du Bo). His courtesy name was Taibai (太白, 태백; Taebaek) and his pen name was Qinglianjushi (靑蓮居士, 청련거사; Cheongryeonggeosa). A number of his poems can be found in the Complete Collection of the Tang Dynasty Poems (全唐詩, 전당시; Jeondangshi), which was commissioned by the Kangxi Emperor of the Qing dynasty in 1705.

Li Bai is also called “the immortal poet” (詩仙, 시선, Shiseon) for his lasting popularity even today in Korea. “The horse’s ear and the east wind” (馬耳東風, 마이동풍) is a well-known Hanja idiom (漢字成語, 한자성어) in the Korean language, which roughly translates to “in one ear and out the other,” that can be traced back to one of his poems. It is an allusion to these lines in A Reply to Wang Shier: On A Cold Night Drinking Alone While Thinking (答王十二寒夜獨酌有懷, 답왕십이한야독작유회):

吟詩作賦北牕裏 음시작부북창리
萬言不直一杯水 만언불직일배수
世人聞此皆掉頭 세상문차해도두

Reciting a poem and writing a fu in the northern window,
All the words do not lie straight in a glass of water.
When the people of this world hear this, all shake their heads,
As if the east wind shot through the horse’s ear.


  • Fu is a type of Chinese poetry.


  • 賦 (부) – A type of descriptive poem.
  • 牕 (창) – window (창문).
  • 掉 (도) – to shake (흔들다).

The rough translation of the entire poem can be read below the break.


 A Reply to Wang Shier: On A Cold Night Drinking Alone While Thinking

昨夜吳中雪 子猷佳興發
작야오중설 자유가흥발
萬里浮雲卷碧山 青天中道流孤月
만리부운권벽산 청천중도류고월

Last night, in Wu county, snow fell.
You, sir, plan for the occurrence of beautiful elegance.
Ten thousand Li away, the floating clouds surround the blue mountain.
In the blue skies, the central road flows into the lonely moon.

  • Wu county refers to a region around modern day Suzhou (蘇州, 소주, Soju).
  • 猷 (유) – To plan (꾀하다).
  • 里 (리) – A unit of distance. In Korea, the distance is 392.72m.

孤月滄浪河漢清 北斗錯落長庚明
고월창랑하한청 북두착락장경명
懷余對酒夜霜白 玉牀金井冰崢嶸
회여대주야상백 옥상금정빙쟁영
人生飄忽百年內 且須酣暢萬古情
인생표홀백년내 차수감창만고정

The lonely moon and the blue billows, the Yellow River washes.
The Big Dipper mistakenly falls and the Janggyeong star turns bright.
Comforting myself, I face the wine, and the night dew turns white.
The jade bench, the golden well, and the ice are utmost precipitous.
Man’s life flutters only but briefly for a hundred years.
Moreover, he should be delighted and be free in all the old passions.

  • 滄 (창, Chang) – Large sea.
  • 河漢 (하한) – Refers to the Yellow River.
  • 北斗 (북두) – Refers to the constellation Big Dipper.
  • 長庚 (장경, Janggyeong) – Refers to the planet Venus (금성, 金星, Geumseong).
  • 崢嶸 (쟁영) – Both characters mean “to be precipitous” or “to be high.”
  • 酣 (감) – to be delighted.

君不能狸膏金距學鬬雞 坐令鼻息吹虹霓
군불능매고금거학투계 좌령비식취홍예
君不能學哥舒 橫行青海夜帶刀 西屠石堡取紫袍
군불능학가사 횡행청해야대도 서도석보취자포

You cannot with fox ointment and metal spurs study cockfighting.
Sitting, you should make your nose breath in the rainbow.
You cannot study Geshu Han,
Traveling sideways upon the blue seas at night with belt and sword.
In the west, he captured a stony small castle and took its purple royal robes.

  • The first line is in reference to cock-fighting.
  • 鬬 (투) – To meet (만나다).
  • 虹霓 (홍예) – Rainbow (무지개).
  • Geshu Han (哥舒翰, 가사한, Gasa Han, ?-757) – General of Tang dynasty.
  • 堡 (보) – Small castle.

吟詩作賦北牕裏 萬言不直一杯水
음시작부북창리 만언불직일배수
世人聞此皆掉頭 有如東風射馬耳
세상문차해도두 유여동풍사마이

Reciting a poem and writing a fu in the northern window,
All the words do not lie straight in the one glass’ water.
When the people of this world hear this, all shake their heads,
As if the east wind shot through the horse’s ear.

  • 賦 (부) – A type of descriptive poem.
  • 牕 (창) – Window.
  • 掉 (도) – To shake (흔들다).

魚目亦笑我 請與明月同
어목역소아 청여명월동
驊騮拳跼不能食 蹇驢得志鳴春風
화류권국불능식 건려득지명춘풍

The fish’s seeing this too laughs at me,
Asking why I am one with the bright moon.
A foot of swift red horse lifted cannot eat.
A lame donkey having intention cries in the Spring winds.

  • 驊 (화) – A type of swift horse (준마).
  • 騮 (류) – A red horse with black hair.
  • 跼 (국) – To bend (굽다) or to hold one foot up.
  • 蹇 (건) – Lame (절뚝발이).
  • 驢 (려) – Donkey (당나귀).

折楊皇華合流俗 晉君聽琴枉清角
절양황화합류속 진군청금광청각
巴人誰肯和陽春 楚地由來賤奇璞
파인수긍화양춘 초지유래천기박

Cutting the willow tree, the imperial minister puts together the common people’s customs.
The lord of Jin, listening to the zither, bends the clean horn.
Among the people of Ba, who will take joy and be at peace at the beginning of Spring?
In the lands of the Chu, its origins are in the low and strange gems.

  • 皇華 (황화) – An archaic way of referring to envoy or minister.
  • 陽春 (양춘) – Beginning of Spring.
  • 璞 (박) – Raw gem.

黃金散盡交不成 白首爲儒身被輕
황금산진교불성 백수위유신피경
一談一笑失顏色 蒼蠅貝錦喧謗聲
일담일소실안색 창승패금훤방성
曾參豈是殺人者 讒言三及慈母驚
증삼기시살인자 재언삼급자모경

Exhaustively scattering gold, friendships are not achieved.
With white hair, becoming a scholar, the body is made light.
One conversation and one laughter [makes one] lose [his] countenance’s complexion.
The blue fly and patterned silk make for loud chatter and disparaging noise.
Zhen Sheng, how is this someone who murders others?
Deceptive flattery reaches three times, making his merciful mother startled.

  • 蠅 (승) – fly.
  • Zeng Shen (曾參, 증삼, Jeung Sam) is a disciple of Confucius.

與君論心握君手 榮辱於余亦何有
여군론심악군수 영욕어여역하유
孔聖猶聞傷鳳麟 董龍更是何雞狗
공성유문상봉린 동룡갱시하계구

With you, I have discussed about the heart, holding onto your hands.
Honor and disgrace to me, also how do they exist?
The sage Confucius nevertheless asked about hurting phoenixes and qilin.
Spurring a dragon, again how are these chickens and dogs?

  • 董 (동) – To coach or to exhort.
  • 雞狗 (계구) – Literally means “chickens and dogs.” It refers to something that can be described as a pair.

一生傲岸苦不諧 恩疏媒勞志多乖
일생오안고불해 은소매로지다괴
嚴陵高揖漢天子 何必長劍拄頤事玉階?
엄릉고읍한천자 하필장검주이사옥계?

In the entirety of life, arrogance and haughtiness is bitter and not harmonious.
Grace is rare and match-making is toilsome – its meaning has much disconnectedness.
From a steep hill, to respectfully bow to the son of heaven of the Han.
Why is it necessary with a long sword endure, protect, and serve the jade steps?

  • 乖 (괴) – To be disconnected (어그러지다).
  • 揖 (읍) – Refers to a rite for greeting.
  • Difficulty translating this line. I have interpreted 頤 (이) to mean “to protect” (보양하다).

達亦不足貴 窮亦不足悲
달역부족귀 궁역부족비
韓信羞將絳灌比 禰衡恥逐屠沽兒
한신착장강관비 예형치축도고아
君不見李北海 英風豪氣今何在?
군불견리북해 영풍고기금하재?

Mastery too is not enough to get wealthy.
Exhaustion too is not enough to get sorrow.
Han Xin was ashamed to be compared to General Jian Guan.
Ni Heng was bashful to have driven out;  he murdered  in Gu a child.
You do not see the plums in the northern seas.
The wind of the glorious and the strength of the heroes – where are they now?

  • Han Xin (韓信, 한신; Hanshin, ?-196BC) – General of Han dynasty during the Han-Chu contention.
  • Jiang (絳, 강) – A city name in China.
  • Unsure of how to translate 比 (비, bi), but it can mean “arrowheads” (오늬).
  •  禰衡 (예형, Yehyeong, 173-198) – “Infamously arrogant official” of Cao Cao (曹操, 조조, Jojo, 155-220) of the Later Han dynasty.
  • Gu (沽, 고) – Another name for Tianjin (天津, 천진, Cheonjin).

君不見裴尚書 土墳三尺蒿棘居
군부견비상서 토분삼척고극거
少年早欲五湖去 見此彌將鐘鼎疎
소년조욕오호거 견차미장종정소

You do not see Pei in the Book of History,
His earthen mound is three feet wide and mugworts and thorns reside.
The young early on wish to depart from the five lakes,
Seeing this widespread sparsity of bells and cauldrons.

  • 裴 (배, Bae) – Pei is a Chinese surname. The Korean surname variant is 裵.
  • 土墳 (토분, Tobun) – Refers to a makeshift grave made out of earth.
  • 蒿 (고, Go) – Mugwort (쑥).

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