The Banished Immortal’ Review: Heaven Begot a Talent Like Me: The poet Li Po sailed down the Yangtze, making friends, visiting temples and reciting poems at dinner parties.

Research output: Journal PublicationsReview article


He was a man of many names: Li Po, Li Bo, Li Bai, Li Taibai. Since his death in 762 the Chinese have revered him as shixian ("Poet Immortal"). A dipsomaniac, he was also called jiuxian ("Wine Immortal"). In "Cathay," Ezra Pound's 1915 collection of classical Chinese poetry, Pound had him as "Rihaku"--the way he was known, and venerated, in Japan. In Pound's creative translation, Rihaku's "The River-Merchant's Wife" became a masterpiece of modern poetry. Even Oulipo, the group of French poets interested in mathematics and writing experiments, were said to be proud of their gratuitous connection, at least in name, to the Tang dynasty poet.

In China Li Po remains the bard of the land, if not the world--a most recognizable global brand, second only, perhaps, to Confucius. As with any cultural icon, beneath the shining veneer must lie untold stories, apocryphal or otherwise. In "The Banished Immortal: A Life of Li Bai (Li Po)," the National Book Award-winning author Ha Jin has excavated historical records and examined existing biographies, both in Chinese and English, to produce a rich, moving and titillating account of the poet's life. The Li Po that emerges from this tale is a figure we know so well and yet hardly.

The Banished Immortal
By Ha Jin Pantheon, 301 pages.
Original languageEnglish
JournalWall Street Journal - Online Edition
Publication statusPublished - 11 Jan 2019


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