Li He, as depicted in the 1743 book Wanxiaotang Zhuzhuang Huazhuan (晩笑堂竹荘畫傳)
|Hanyu Pinyin||Lǐ Hè|
|Courtesy name: Changji|
|Literal meaning||Ghost of Poetry|
Li He (790–816), courtesy name Changji, was a short-lived Chinese poet of the late Tang Dynasty, known for his dense and allusive use of symbolism, for his use of synecdoche, for his vividly imaginative (and often fantastic) imagery, and for his otherwise sometimes unconventional style of poetry. However, these qualities lead to a revival of interest in him and his poetry in the twentieth century.
A native of Changgu (昌谷, in modern-day Luoyang, Henan), Li was discouraged by some of his contemporaries from taking the Imperial Examination owing to naming taboo: his father's name happened to sound similar to Jinshi. Encouraged by Han Yu, who admired his talent, Li took the examination but failed it. Despite his distant royal ancestry (to the Li family who were the ruling dynastic family of the Tang Dynasty), Li He died a low-ranking and poor official, at the age of about 27: various dates are given for him, some more credible than others. According to Frodsham (1983), "the weight of evidence suggests that he was born in a Horse year, since he wrote no less than twenty-three poems in which the horse stands as a symbol for himself".
About 240 of Li He's poems survive. His works were admired by the group of poets in the late Tang Dynasty who practiced similar poetic techniques. His collected poems were prefaced by Du Mu, and a short biography was written by Li Shangyin. Although his works were admired by many during and since his lifetime, they were not accepted in the canonical tradition: none of his poems made their way into the popular anthologies such as the Three Hundred Tang Poems.
According to Sinologist Francois Jullien Li He's poetry was readmitted "at the end of the nineteenth century ... [when] ... Western notions of romanticism [ allowed] the Chinese to reexamine this poet, allowing the symbolism of his poems to speak at last, freeing his imaginary world from the never-ending quest for insinuations." (Detour and Access, p. 73)
Known as an eccentric poet, Li was dubbed "Ghost of Poetry" (詩鬼), while Li Bai was called an "Immortal of Poetry" (詩仙) and Du Fu "Sage of Poetry" (詩聖). Along with Li Bai and Li Shangyin, Li He is one of the "Three Lis" (三李), loved by Mao Zedong, and others.
In popular culture
- In 1968, Roger Waters of the rock band Pink Floyd borrowed lines from his poetry to create the lyrics for the song "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun" from the band's second album A Saucerful of Secrets.
- Francois Jullien. Detour and Access: Strategies of Meaning in China and Greece. ISBN 1-890951-11-0
- J. D. Frodsham (1970). The Poems of Li Ho (791-817). Oxford: Clarendon Press. ISBN 0-19-815436-4.
- J. D. Frodsham (1983). The Poems of Li He (790-816). San Francisco: NorthPointPress. ISBN 0-86547-084-7.
- A. C. Graham (1977). Penguin Classics: Poems Of The Late Tang. Penguin Group.
- Qian, Zhongnian, "Li He". Encyclopedia of China (Chinese Literature Edition), 1st ed.
- Works by He Li at Project Gutenberg
- Works by or about He Li at Internet Archive
- "Poems by 9th Century Chinese Poet Li He", a selection of poems by Li He, with translation and calligraphy, Brink Magazine, October 2008.