In ‘Taking Leave of a Friend,’ Li Bai, also known as Li Po, describes the poignant farewell of a departing friend. Through vivid imagery and metaphors, the speaker conveys a sense of transience and separation, emphasizing the emotional weight of the moment. The beauty of the natural world serves as a backdrop for the speaker’s emotions, and the impermanence of human relationships is highlighted throughout the poem.
Despite the sadness of the departure, the speaker finds solace in the memories and experiences shared with their friend. The enduring power of friendship is emphasized through the speaker’s well wishes for their friend’s journey, even though they will not be there to witness it.
The poem conveys a powerful message about the brevity of life and the importance of treasuring the moments we have with those we love.
Taking Leave of a Friend Li BaiBlue mountains lie beyond the north wall;Round the city's eastern side flows the white water.Here we part, friend, once forever.You go ten thousand miles, drifting awayLike an unrooted water-grass.Oh, the floating clouds and the thoughts of a wanderer!Oh, the sunset and the longing of an old friend!We ride away from each other, waving our hands,While our horses neigh softly, softly . . .
Explore Taking Leave of a Friend
The poem ‘Taking Leave of a Friend’ by Li Bai is a poignant farewell to a departing friend.
The speaker sets the scene with the blue mountains visible beyond the north wall and the white water flowing around the city’s eastern side. The friend is departing, and the speaker knows that it is a farewell for eternity. The friend will travel ten thousand miles away, like an unrooted water grass drifting away.
The beauty of the natural world struck the speaker as they contemplated the floating clouds and the thoughts of a wanderer. They are also moved by the sunset, which is a metaphor for the end of a chapter in their friendship. The longing for an old friend is palpable in the speaker’s words, and it is clear that they will miss their departing friend deeply.
As the two friends part, they wave to each other while their horses neigh softly in the background. The final lines in the poem capture the sense of sadness and loss that the narrator feels. This act of waving goodbye to each other is a bittersweet moment; they know they will never meet their friend again.
Overall, ‘Taking Leave of a Friend’ exposes the shortness of life and the sadness of parting. It helps to remind oneself of the importance of cherishing our loved ones while we have them since we never know when we might have to say a final goodbye to them.
Structure and Form
The poem ‘Taking Leave of a Friend’ by Li Bai follows a simple structure, consisting of one stanza that consists of nine lines. The poet wrote the poem in free verse, with no consistent meter or rhyme scheme.
The first two lines set the scene as the poet describes the blue mountains beyond the north wall and the white water flowing around the city’s eastern side. The sixth and seventh lines are the heart of the poem, in which he expresses the speaker’s emotions as they bid farewell to their friend. These lines use natural imagery, such as the floating clouds and the sunset, to convey the narrator’s feelings of longing and sadness. Lines eight and nine describe the act of parting, as the two friends wave goodbye while their horses neigh softly in the background.
The poem’s structure and form also enhance its intended emotional impact. The simplicity of its structure reflects the simplicity of the narrator’s message. This is the primary message of love and loss. The free verse form further enables the poet to convey their emotions in a natural and unforced way, without the constraints of a strict rhyme or meter. This gives the poem a sense of spontaneity and authenticity.
The poem’s brevity also adds to its impact. Li Bai conveys a wealth of emotion in just nine lines, making every word count. The poem’s concise structure and simple language make it accessible to readers of all backgrounds and cultures, and its universal themes of love, loss, and friendship resonate with readers to date.
It should also be noted that this poem was not originally written in English. The version seen below is a translation of the original. This means that any literary devices that the poet used, like alliteration, rhyme, rhythm, assonance, consonance, etc, have been lost in translation.
In ‘Taking Leave of a Friend,’ Li Bai addresses several different themes, each of which contributes to the poem’s emotional impact.
One theme is the transience of life. The poem captures the short-lived nature of human relationships as the speaker bids farewell to their friend, knowing that they will never see them again. This theme is expressed in the image of the unrooted water grass, which symbolizes the impermanence of life and the inevitability of change.
Li Bai also addresses the theme of the beauty of the natural world. The author uses evocative imagery to describe the blue mountains, the white water, and the floating clouds. These natural elements serve as a backdrop for the speaker’s emotions, highlighting the contrast between the timeless beauty of nature and the fugacious character of human relationships.
The theme of longing for our loved ones is also evident in the poem. The speaker expresses his deep sadness at parting with his friend. To achieve this, the speaker applies the image of the sunset. This image symbolizes the end of a chapter in their friendship. The narrator’s use of the word “longing” emphasizes his emotional attachment to his friend and his unwillingness to let go of the past.
Central to ‘Taking Leave of a Friend’ is the theme of friendship. The poem’s title underscores the vitality of human connection coupled with the bonds that form between friends. Waving goodbye while the horses neigh softly in the background acts as a poignant reminder of the deep emotional connections that we share with those we love.
Poetic Techniques and Figurative Language
In ‘Taking Leave of a Friend,’ Li Bai employs several poetic techniques and figurative language to convey his message and impact emotionally on the reader. For your information, while going through this analysis, it’s important to know that this poem was initially written in the Chinese language.
Hence, the original version of the poem did not contain any instances of alliteration, particular sounds, or rhyme scheme. These literary elements were introduced in the translated version of the poem at the discretion of the translator.
- Metaphor: One technique he uses is a metaphor, such as when the poet compares the departing friend to an unrooted water grass. This metaphor suggests that the friend is drifting away aimlessly, without any control over their destination.
- Imagery: Li Bai also uses lucid imagery to create a sense of place and mood. For example, he describes the blue mountains and white water to establish the natural setting and the floating clouds and sunset to evoke a sense of melancholy and longing.
- Repetition: The poet also employs this technique, such as the repeated use of the word ‘oh’ in the sixth and seventh lines. This repetition emphasizes the speaker’s emotional state and intensifies the feeling of longing and sadness.
- Personification: Li Bai also uses personification to give life to inanimate objects, such as the personification of the horses as they softly neigh. This adds to the poem’s emotional impact, highlighting the sense of loss and separation that the speaker is experiencing.
- Symbolism: An example of the use of symbolism is when the narrator uses the sunset to symbolize the end of the friendship. The sunset represents the end of a chapter in the speaker’s life and the beginning of a new one without their friend.
- Alliteration: Last but not least, the use of alliteration, such as the repetition of the “w” sound in “We,” “waving our hands,” and “While,” creates a musical quality to the poem, adding to its emotional impact.
Blue mountains lie beyond the north wall;
Round the city’s eastern side flows the white water.
Here we part, friend, once forever.
In these opening lines, Li Bai establishes the setting and creates a sense of place. The blue mountains and white water provide a vivid natural landscape as a backdrop for the speaker’s emotions. The poet’s use of “beyond the north wall” suggests that the mountains are distant and inaccessible, adding to the sense of transience and separation. By introducing the theme of parting so early in the poem, Li Bai establishes the emotional tone and sets the stage for the rest of the poem.
Furthermore, the line “Here we part, friend, once forever” emphasizes the finality of the departure and adds a sense of melancholy to the poem. The use of the word “once” highlights that this is the only time the friends will part, emphasizing the importance of the moment. The use of the word “forever” emphasizes the permanence of the separation, adding a sense of weight and finality to the poem.
The line “Round the city’s eastern side flows the white water” can also be interpreted symbolically. The flowing water can be seen as a metaphor for the passage of time, which flows endlessly even after the friends have parted ways. The white water may also represent the purity and clarity of their friendship, which will remain even after they have gone their separate ways. The use of the word “flows” further emphasizes the continuity of their friendship, even in their absence.
You go ten thousand miles, drifting away
Like an unrooted water-grass.
Here, Li Bai employs a metaphor to describe the departing friend. The image of the unrooted water grass conveys a sense of aimlessness and vulnerability, suggesting that the friend is adrift and lacking a clear sense of direction. The phrase “ten thousand miles” reinforces the concept of distance and separation, highlighting the difficulty of maintaining a friendship over long distances.
Furthermore, the use of the metaphor of an unrooted water grass also implies that the friend is leaving behind their roots, their place of origin, and their identity, to venture into the unknown. This creates a sense of nostalgia and loss, as the friend will be leaving behind a part of themselves along with their physical departure. The image of the unrooted water grass also suggests that the friend is moving in a fluid and unpredictable manner, with the possibility of being carried away by the currents of life, never to be seen or heard from again.
Moreover, the use of the word “drifting” in this line implies that the friend’s departure is not by choice but rather due to external circumstances that are beyond their control. The word “drifting” suggests a lack of intention or purpose, further emphasizing the sense of aimlessness and vulnerability conveyed by the metaphor of the unrooted water grass. The phrase “drifting away” also implies a gradual and inexorable departure, highlighting the inevitability of separation and adding to the sense of loss and nostalgia.
In essence, Li Bai’s message in these lines is to emphasize the difficulty of maintaining a friendship over long distances and to convey the sense of loss and nostalgia that comes with separation. The use of the metaphor of the unrooted water grass creates a powerful image of vulnerability, aimlessness, and unpredictability, which captures the emotional tone of the poem and adds depth to the theme of separation and departure.
Oh, the floating clouds and the thoughts of a wanderer!
Oh, the sunset and the longing of an old friend!
We ride away from each other, waving our hands,
While our horses neigh softly, softly . . .
In these lines, Li Bai uses graphic imagery and repetition to convey the emotional impact of the speaker’s farewell. The floating clouds and sunset symbolize the passage of time and the inevitability of change. The repeated use of “oh” emphasizes the speaker’s emotional state, while the phrase “longing of an old friend” captures the depth of the speaker’s attachment to their departing companion. The image of the waving hands and softly neighing horses add to the sense of parting and separation, emphasizing the emotional weight of the moment.
Furthermore, Li Bai’s use of enjambment in these lines creates a sense of movement and fluidity, mirroring the fleeting nature of the speaker’s emotions. The line breaks between “Oh, the floating clouds and the thoughts of a wanderer!” and “Oh, the sunset and the longing of an old friend!” create a pause that allows the reader to contemplate the beauty and transience of the natural world.
Similarly, the enjambment between “We ride away from each other, waving our hands” and “While our horses neigh softly, softly . . .” conveys a sense of motion and departure, emphasizing the finality of the parting.
The use of personification in the line “While our horses neigh softly, softly . .” also adds to the emotional impact of the farewell. By attributing emotions to the horses, Li Bai creates a sense of empathy and connection between the reader and the speaker, highlighting the universal experience of separation and loss.
The repetition of “softly” emphasizes the gentleness of the moment and underscores the poignancy of the farewell. Overall, these lines capture the bittersweet quality of parting and the enduring power of human connection.
In conclusion, Li Bai’s poem ‘Taking Leave of a Friend’ uses different literary techniques to convey the themes of impermanence, nature, longing, and friendship. Through metaphors, imageries, repetition, and symbolism, Li Bai captures the emotional complexity of parting, emphasizing the importance of human connection and the difficulty of maintaining it over time and distance.
The speaker in ‘Taking Leave of a Friend’ by Li Bai is not explicitly identified. However, it can be assumed that the speaker is one of the two friends parting ways. The poem appears in the first person, and the speaker expresses a sense of sadness and longing at the departure of their friend. Therefore, one can infer that the speaker is deeply attached to their friend and feels a sense of loss at their impending separation.
Li Bai’s poem ‘Taking Leave of a Friend’ has a tone of sadness, melancholy, and longing. The speaker deeply cares for their friend and feels a sense of loss as they are about to part ways. The poem uses striking natural imagery, including blue mountains and white water, and repetition of the word “Oh” to emphasize the speaker’s emotional state.
Li Bai’s ‘Taking Leave of a Friend’ is a lyric poem that conveys the speaker’s personal emotions and feelings towards their friend. It is characterized by emotional intensity and explores themes of love, loss, and human connection. The use of graphic natural imagery and repetition creates an emotional depth typical of lyric poetry. The poem is written in the first person, which emphasizes the personal nature of the speaker’s reflections and feelings.
The mood of Li Bai’s ‘Taking Leave of a Friend’ is somber and wistful. The speaker expresses a pang of deep sadness and melancholy at their friend’s departure, using metaphors and imagery to convey the emotional weight of the moment. The poem’s mood reflects the mutability of life and separation, emphasizing the emotional impact of parting.
Those who enjoyed ‘Taking Leave of a Friend’ should also consider reading some other Li Bai poems.
- ‘Before The Cask of Wine’ – is a beautiful lyric that emphasizes enjoying one’s youthful hours to the fullest.
- ‘The Solitude of Night’ – is a drowsy poem that acts as a tribute to the silent moments of peace in life.
- ‘A Poem of Changgan’ – This poem by Li Bai, also known as Li Po, is a coming-of-age poem that deals with the development of a girl into early womanhood.