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Location: Vienna, Austria, Austria

Sunday, January 08, 2006


Old Rabbit and Cool Turtle cry,
black lustre of skies they weep;
cloud-towers are standing half ajar
with walls white, wry and steep,
the Jade Wheel's rolling over the dew,
a slushy ball of light;
watch Moon her jewel-embroidered gown
in the laurel bush's odours steep!

The yellow dust and the bluish waves
at the foot of three hills
keep changing a thousand years, yet pace
with a trotting horse they keep;
from thus far, our realm of Ch'i
looks like nine puffs of smoke,
like a bowl to pour washing-water from
the sea, that's so vast and deep!

Li He (791-817)

Most Europeans think there's a Man in the Moon - most Asians see a rabbit there. Apparently the Indians saw the rabbit first, and together with Buddhism the tradition spread as far as Korea and Japan. There are different stories about how he came there, but since he has been living there for thousands of years, it's evident that he knows the secret of long life; they say he sits up there preparing pills that will make you immortal.
According to another Chinese tradition, the moon is a turtle that walks over the sky every night - very slowly. Also, the moon might be a loose wheel from some gigantic chariot of light, or alternatively the face of a beautiful woman; the moon's halo and moonshiny clouds are her garments. One might see one or two of these things in the moon; but Li He manages to see them all at the same time!
The realm of Ch'i is China, of course. And yes, in the second stanza the poet is looking down from the moon.

Li He was one of the best and craziest poets of the T'ang era, and it is believed he derived his strange imagery from the tradition of the shamans, or maybe from shamanistic experiences. He died from poverty and illness at the age of 26.


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