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This review is taken from PN Review 38, Volume 10 Number 6, May - June 1984.

THE GHOST Goddesses, Ghosts and Demons (The Collected Poems of Li He, 790-816). Translated with an introduction and notes by J. D. Frodsham
(Anvil Press) £10 pb.

Li Ho, styled Changi-ji and now evidently to be called Li He, is the poète maudit of the Tang poets, of whom Li Po ('the immortal') and Tu Fu ('the saint') remain the best-known. 'The ghost', as he is known, died in 816 at the age of twenty-seven, either from dipsomania or as a result of sexual dissipation or perhaps from the neglect and self-neglect to which the poète maudit seems congenitally prone. A biographer of the eleventh century records that 'once he had written a poem he did not greatly care what became of it' which may explain why only some two hundred or so poems of Ho's survive. An alternative tradition, marginally less reliant upon hearsay, suggests that an aggrieved cousin flushed most of them down a privy. 'This dearth of biographical material,' writes J. D. Frodsham, 'makes He all poet', though there cannot be any doubt that Ho's unusual personality has lent itself to legend-making of a more or less legitimate kind for over a thousand years.

In any event Ho can now be seen, courtesy of Frodsham and of Anvil's excellent Poetica series, as entire as anyone but a Sinologist could possibly wish. How much is to be gleaned from the experience, however, depends very much on how prepared one is to explore the extensive notes, fifty-six pages in all, which Frodsham feels this poet must have if he is to stand any chances of making an impact comparable with that of the ...


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