He Zhizhang (賀知章; ca. 659–744) was born in Zhejiang Province and had the good fortune to die before the An Lushuan Rebellion.
Reading Li Bai’s poem, “The Road to Shu is Difficult,” the much older He Zhizhang exclaimed, “You have descended as a spirit from the heavens,” earning Li Bai the sobriquet, “The Immortal”. Found of wine, He Zhizhang, along with Li Bai, became one of the Immortals of the Wine Cup. He Zhizhang himself negotiated the difficulties of the Imperial Court, holding various postions in the capital of Chang’an. Toward the end of his career, He Zhizhang served the Emperor Xuanzong’s son, who would become the new Tang Emperor Suzong.
In his eighties and ill, he resigned his official position and became a Taoist priest.
Coming Home (Returning Home) is one his better known poems.
Young I left, old I come home,
In speech unchanged, but hair too thin to comb.
Unknown to boys and girls I meet, so
Politely they ask, “From where do you come?”
His distinguished career included supervising the education and training of the future Tang Emperor Suzong. Well into his 80s , He Zhizhang received permission from the imperial court to retire, took ordination as a daoshi or Taoist priest.
He returned home to his native village where he lived briefly before dying. Presumably, he wrote this poem in the brief time that remained to him.
Fellow poet Du Fu named him one of the Eight Immortals of the Wine Cup.
Zhizhang rides his horse, but reels
As on a rocking ship, and
Should he, bleary-eyed tumble in a well
Would he, lie there, sleeping very well