Li He, 李賀

Contemporaries accounts say he was small and sickly, with long fingernails. That he had a uni-brow can be seen in the 18th century image drawn by Shangguan Zhou.

Li He, as depicted in the 1743 book Wanxiaotang Zhuzhuang Huazhuan (晩笑堂竹荘畫傳), image wikipedia
Li He depicted by Shangguan Zhou, early 18th c.

Other poets described him as a man of 鬼才, guicai, i.e. “ghostly talent”. Perhaps this was because of his precocity, he wrote his first poem at the age of seven; perhaps because of the dark subject matters of his poems. His branch of the Li family was far removed from that of the ruling Tang dynasty. Nor does it seem that he had a close connection to earlier poet Li Bai or the later Li Shangyin.

His courtesy name 長吉, Changji, Forever Lucky, does not fit him for failed the Imperial Examinations and died at the age of 26 or 27. Because of his early death, his poems are not found in the Anthology of 300 Tang Poems. His cousin, given the task of collecting his poems, threw most of them into the privy. Rather, it is due to the later poets Han Yu, Li Shangyin and Du Mu, that he is remembered, and to poets of the Song Dynasty who gathered what remained of Li He’s poetry into collections.

[Li He image from Wikipedia, drawn by Shangguan Zhou.]

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