“To Liu Yuxi.” One of the Chinese poets frequently quoted in Murasaki Shikibu’s Tale of Genji, Bai was born in 772 and entered the civil service around the age of thirty, serving as governor of Zhongzhou, Hangzhou, and Suzhou before becoming mayor of Luoyang in 829. His friend Liu Yuxi, a similarly distinguished bureaucrat and poet, is the subject of several of Bai’s poems. “Do you sleep well? How is your appetite?” reads one written in 835. “I want to know all that passes through your mind; / You must never again be ‘too lazy to write.’ ”
In length of days and soundness of limb,
You and I are one.
Our eyes are not wholly blind,
Nor our ears quite deaf.
Deep drinking, we lie together,
Fellows of a spring day,
Or, gay-hearted, boldly break into
Gatherings of young men.
When, seeking flowers, we borrowed his horse,
The river keeper was vexed;
When, to play on the water, we stole his boat,
The duke Ling was sore.
I hear it said that in Luoyang
People are all shocked
And call us by the name of
“Liu and Bai, those two mad old men.”