Yellow Crane Tower

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Yellow Crane Tower
        Cui Hào 704-754

The ancient one 
        flew off on his yellow crane,
Now this place is empty 
        only Yellow Crane Tower remains.
The Yellow Crane 
        once gone never returns,
White clouds for a thousand years 
        empty and remote.
Boats and Hanyang trees 
        reflect in clear water,
Lush vegetation thrives
        on Parrot Shoal.
At dusk I ask for news of home,
These mist shrouded waters 
       heavy on my heart. 
Cuī Hào d. 745

Xīrén yǐ chéng huáng hè qù,
Cǐ dì kōng yú Huánghèlóu.
Huáng hè yī qù bù fùfǎn,
Bái yún qiānzǎi kōng yōuyōu.
Qīng chuán lìlì hàn yáng shù,
Fāngcǎo qīqī Yīngwǔzhōu.
Rí mù xiāngguān héchù shì,
Yānbō jiāng shàng shǐrén chóu.
Translator: Dongbo 東波

This is Cui Hao's most famous poem written at the Yellow Crane Tower located in Wuhan, on the Changjiang in Hubei province. Later, Li Bo greatly admired this poem and imitated it in his own poem, based on a diiferent tower near Nanjing, called "Climbing Phoenix Terrace at Jinling". But it is said that he admitted that his poem could not match that of Cui Hao.

At the 1999 meeting of the Asociation of Asian Studies, Wei Shang of Columbia University gave a paper on the poetic obsession with the Yellow Crane tower. His abstract reads:

"With poems like his "Yellow Crane Tower," Cui Hao (?–754) established himself as one of the premier poets of the High Tang. Though not the first poem to be composed on that landmark, his was the one that was recognized as definitive, exerting a shaping and conditioning influence on poetic representation of that locale for generations to come. In response to Cui Hao’s poem, Li Bai (701–62) wrote a poem on the Phoenix Tower at Jinling, which in turn guaranteed Li’s own poetic dominion over that spot. But beneath this apparent triumph lies a story of frustration: anecdote has it that Li Bai once ascended Yellow Crane Tower, but left without having been able to compose anything—reduced to unwilling silence by Cui’s poem inscribed conspicuously on the tower’s wall.

Yet Li Bai was to recover from this silence: in several subsequent poems, he continues an oblique dialogue with Cui Hao’s "Yellow Crane Tower." This paper will address two sets of issues arising from a reading of these poems: the first concerns the question of poetic authority and competition among High Tang poets; the second centers on the actual or imagined conditions under which these poems were composed, circulated, and responded to. In one poem, Li Bai imagines that he has smashed Yellow Crane Tower to pieces; in another he envisions it reconstructed, with a freshly painted wall—an invitation to him to inscribe a new poem on it. The repainted wall assumes a double role in the production of meaning in the poem, erasing or covering over Cui Hao’s poem while at the same time opening up a new space for Li Bai’s own creative imagination."

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