Li Shangyin (c. 813–858), courtesy name Yishan (義山), was a Chinese poet of the late Tang Dynasty, born in Henei (now Qinyang, Henan). Along with Li He, he was much admired and "rediscovered" in the 20th century by the young Chinese writers for the imagist quality of his poems. He is particularly famous for his tantalizing "no title" (無題) poems.
Li had a moderately successful career in the imperial civil service, although he never obtained a high position, either because of factional disputes, or because of his association with Liu Fen (劉蕡), a prominent opponent of the eunuchs.
Li was a typical Late Tang poet: his works are sensuous, dense and allusive. The latter quality makes adequate translation extremely difficult. The political, biographical or philosophical implications supposed to be contained in some of his poems have been a subject of debate for many centuries in China.
His most famous and cryptic poem is called "Jin Se" (錦瑟) (the title is only taken from the first two characters of the poem, since the poem is one of Li's "no title" poems), which consists of 56 characters and a string of images. His "no title" poems are regarded as "pure poetry" by some modern critics.
Although more famous for his sensuous poems, Li indeed wrote in many styles, sometimes be satirical, humorous or sentimental. Moreover, some ancient critics hold that he is the only poet who, in some of his poems, succeeds in imitating the masculine quality of Du Fu's works.
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.
More recently, Li Shangyin's poem, "When Will I Be Home?" is alluded to and quoted from by Hig, the protagonist of Peter Heller's 2012 novel, The Dog Stars. The novel ends with a reprinting of the poem in full.
His name is mentioned and his poem is quoted in the Korean TV Series Gu-am Heo Jun, Episode 119.
- Poems by Li Shang-yin
- Biography, Chinese texts and translations.
- Regulated verses of Li Shangyin, with English translation, pinyin transliteration, and tonal patterns.
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