Study Guide

A Poem of Changgan

By Li Po (also known as Li Bai)

A Poem of Changgan Introduction

Long distance relationships are tough. When our sweetheart's far away from us, we can't hold their hand, we can't cuddle with them, and we can't even be couch potatoes together and binge our favorite Netflix titles. We miss them so much, we might feel like crying sometimes. Thank goodness for the internet and for smartphones, right? At least nowadays we can reach out and (virtually) touch someone when we really miss them.

Now, imagine being in a long distance relationship a thousand years ago, when there weren't any phones, there wasn't an internet, and we didn't even have cars and planes to zip us around. Li Po's "A Poem of Changgan" gives us an insight into exactly what it felt like to be in a long distance relationship before technology made it easy for us to stay in touch. It's a poem that's spoken by a young wife who's waiting for her husband to return from a long journey.

Even though "A Poem of Changgan" describes a time and a place that may be very alien to us (it's set in China, and was written over a thousand years ago, in the middle of the eighth century), the feelings that the poem describes are very familiar. The young wife's sadness, her isolation, her feelings of missing her hubby are all things that many of us have experienced when we're separated from those we love. Sure, nowadays we have technology to help us stay in touch, but there's no getting around the "distance" part of a long distance relationship.

What is A Poem of Changgan About and Why Should I Care?

Ah, first love—we know the feeling: when that special someone in our chemistry class walks into the room, and our heart starts pumping. Our hands get all sweaty. We get all fidgety and nervous. It's like we're possessed. There's nothing like that experience of falling in love for the first time. Chances are, even if we go on to have a hundred girlfriends or boyfriends, we'll never forget that first special someone we fell in love with.

Li Po's "A Poem of Changgan" is so great not only because it describes exactly what it feels like to have that experience of first love. Sure, the poem is also about what it feels like to be in a long distance relationship. And yes, maybe we've gone through so many broken relationships ourselves that we've become all cynical about love. But still, "A Poem of Changgan" takes us back to that experience of our first romance—the thrills, the aches, the obsession. And don't we all want to remember what that was like?

A Poem of Changgan Resources

Websites

Li Po, A Life
Here's a short introduction to the poet and his work from the Poetry Foundation.

Cultural China: Li Bai (Li Po)
This is a great website that provides us with all kinds of interesting background to and snippets about Li Po's life and poetry.

Video

Li Bai: China's Immortal Poet
Check out this short documentary about Li Bai's (Li Po's) life.

Learn Chinese Now
Hey, how about a poetry lesson and a Chinese lesson all in one? We get both in this video about Li Po's poem "Thinking on a Quiet Night."

Audio

"Changgan Memories"
This is a reading (with visuals) of a version of "A Poem of Changgan." (Notice that the translation is different.)

"Drinking Alone by Moonlight"
Here's a famous poem by Li Po, sung in Chinese. Don't worry, there are subtitles so we can understand what's being said.

Images

Strollin' Li Bai
Here's a famous portrait of the famous Tang dynasty poet.

Li Po Calligraphy
Check out the only surviving calligraphy in Li Po's own hand.

Articles and Interviews

"Li Bai and Du Fu: China's Drunken Superstar Poets"
Apparently, China's two most famous poets were big drinkers.

Books

The Jade Mountain: A Chinese Anthology
This anthology of Chinese poetry includes Li Po's "A Poem of Changgan."

Li Bai and Du Fu
Here's a great introduction to two of China's greatest poets.