Li Bai, Why I live in the Green Mountains

In the mountains, you asked, I answered, most popular answer

Why do I live in the green mountains?
I laugh and answer not, my soul serene
I dwell in another paradise, where earth belongs to no man
Where peach trees blossom forever, and the rivers flow on and on

You ask, why I dwell on Green Mountain;
I smile and make no reply for my heart is at peace.
The peach-blossoms flow downstream and are gone forever,
I live in a world apart from among men.

I’m asked what the sense of living on Jade Mountain
I laugh and answer not, my heart at peace
I dwell in another heaven where no earthly man belongs
Where peach trees blossom and spring waters flow forever

green mountains
green mountains where rivers flow forever

Li Bai

Our wandering poet lived 61 years, surviving the hardship of rebellion and the vicissitudes of court intrigue. His final punishment was banishment for life. I suspect this strongly influenced his preference for the green mountains over the imperial palace or the sinecure of an imperial posting. Tongue in cheek, he might have said:

“I do not fare too well at court, too fond of wine and pretty girls, let the emperor wait, I’d rather compose a witty rhyme.”

Chinese and Pinyin

Wèn yú hé yì qī bìshān
Xiào ér bù dá xīn zì xián
Táohuā liúshuǐ yǎo rán qù
Biéyǒu tiāndì fēi rénjiān

問余何意棲碧山
笑而不答心自閒
桃花流水杳然去
別有天地非人間

Most popular answer

Poems may be allegorical, historical, legendary, sensual, descriptive, romantic, or a combination of some of the above. Li Bai’s poem draws from many of these genres.

I have given it two interpretations in three translations.

li bai reclining on rocks
li bai reclining on rocks

Why I live in the Green Mountains

Me or she, she the Queen Mother of the West.

Me, the wandering poet. After leaving the Imperial Court at Chang’an, Li Bai, now in his late 20s and early 30s,  wandered far and wide, before settling in Anlu, Hubei Province. He married well and formally adopted Taoism. His wife’s family had a country home at Bishan, Bi Mountain (碧山). There Li Bai found contentment, his heart at peace (心自閒, xīn zì xián). Several of his poems used the peach flower (桃花, táohuā) as a motif for immortality.

There in a world apart from man, he flourished. Compare 人间蒸发, rén jiān zhēng fā, to disappear from the earth.

Xi_Wangmu

She, Xiwangmu

She, Xiwangmu, Queen Mother of the West.

In Taoist’s fairy tales, Xiwangmu is the Queen Mother of the West, the supreme goddess in the heaven, as well as the wife of Yuhuang Dadi, the Jade Emperor. Her palace is described as having a garden, full of peach (tao 桃) trees, a symbol of longevity. The trees from which the peaches grow are said to only bear fruit every 3,000 years. When this happens the Queen invites all the immortals to a banquet to celebrate her birthday and the day she became immortal. The trees border a Jasper Pool filled with water that flows forever.

The Title. In the Mountain, question answered

 山中問答(答俗人), In the mountain, question answered, most popular answer. This question reminds me of the popular topic “Mountains or Ocean” in which each person, given only one choice, must choose between living in the mountains or at the beach. Me, I all for the mountains. Mountains are hard and serene and beaches are way too easy, only the weak prefer what is easy.

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