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This article is taken from PN Review 192, Volume 36 Number 4, March - April 2010.

Letter from Belgrade James Sutherland-Smith

It’s like boundless dream here in this
world, nothing here to trouble us.

wrote Li Po in a poem in a poem titled ‘Something said waking drunk on a Spring day’, in David Hinton’s spare, occasionally pidgin English translations available from New Directions or Anvil Press. There is a Penguin Classics edition of Li Po and his contemporary and admirer Tu Fu, who may well have been the greater poet. Arthur Cooper translated the poets and provided a fascinating background occupying as many pages as the poems. However, Hinton’s diction is rather more to my taste, with no ‘heigh ho’s’ or ‘Ayes’.

Li Po’s lines echo the desire I’ve had for a decade to quit remunerative employment and live off accumulated financial fat. The Bankers’ Bubble managed to shatter that particular dream and the grand tour of Italy via a series of modest but clean ‘pensioni’ will have to wait. Unlike Li Po in the next two lines (Hinton’s version),

I have, therefore, been drunk all day,
A shambles of sleep on the front porch

I have no desire to attain the Chinese classical poet’s professional ideal of ‘drunkenness’, a state of mild intoxication where a poet is potentially at one with the universe. I suppose half a bottle of a good red wine from Montenegro or a similar quantity of white wine from one of the small vineyards recently revived in the Fruška Gora hills ...

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