Mar 18 2013

Li Po – The birds have vanished into the sky

Published by at 8:32 am under Poetry

The birds have vanished into the sky
by Li Po

English version by Sam Hamill

The birds have vanished into the sky,
and now the last cloud drains away.

We sit together, the mountain and me,
until only the mountain remains.

— from Endless River: Li Po and Tu Fu: A Friendship in Poetry, Translated by Sam Hamill

/ Photo by FelineShadowDancer /

We can read a lot into this poem, or very little.

One way to read Li Po’s poem is that the birds are like chattering thoughts. They represent the movement within the mind. But thoughts can soar so high, reach such elevated levels, that they vanish in the sky of mind.

The clouds might be understood as obstructions of awareness, limiting the perception of the untainted vast sky-mind. And, with the birds, clouds too “drain away” in deep stillness.

(Yet, even when clouds are thick and heavy, even when birds flit about in their busyness, the sky itself, original mind, contains it all and remains pure and untainted beyond the obstructions.)

The mountain is that which is eternal, fixed, both rooted in the earth and touching the heavens. Watching this “mountain” of eternal presence long enough, in deep stillness you find that you are nowhere to be seen. You are surprised to discover that everything you reflexively called “me” was never really there in the first place, and “only the mountain remains.” The “mountain” is finally recognized as your true Self, your only self, eternal. Effortlessly, you bridge heaven and earth by your very nature. And only That remains.

OR —

You can ignore all of that, and just step into the landscape.

Li Po, Li Po poetry, Taoist poetry Li Po

China (701 – 762) Timeline

Li Po (also transliterated as Li Pai or Li Bai) was raised in Szechwan in western China. He traveled widely throughout China in his life.

In his 40s, he was appointed to a high academy position by the emperor in recognition of his work, but he was later exiled for political reasons. He then worked in the service of a southern prince who rose up in rebellion. When that prince lost his struggle, Li Po was exiled a second time, but eventually pardoned.

Li Po’s poetry is particularly known for its elegance. It suggests a certain serene poise in relationship to the world and the quiet mind observing it.

More poetry by Li Po

8 responses so far

8 Responses to “Li Po – The birds have vanished into the sky”

  1. Christopheron 18 Mar 2013 at 12:58 pm

    Thank you Ivan. Love this poem and your commentary today. All the best.

  2. Jelenaon 18 Mar 2013 at 4:23 pm

    Thank you Ivan, for your enlightening interpretation of the poem. I always enjoy reading the poems you post as well as your personal responses to them.

    Also, thanks to you and to your website, I was encouraged to publish my book of poems,
    entitled WITH THE LAMP OF MY SOUL. It can be found on the, the, and the publisher under my maiden name, Helena Bango. I hope that you read it one day. Through your website I was guided toward the Xlibris.
    Thank you kindly, Jelena.

  3. Katon 18 Mar 2013 at 4:24 pm

    Thank you, Beautiful. I enjoy your site.. it does bring me, much Joy. take care.
    Love and Light*

  4. Martinaon 18 Mar 2013 at 4:33 pm

    Love this!!

  5. ebrahimon 19 Mar 2013 at 7:10 am

    that spirit has returned to its home
    leaving the shell of the form
    to drip away

    that original image of the mountain
    returns to it
    leaving only it to remain

    “There is no target falling short of him nor anything else to aim at beyond him. He is the outwardly manifest without the need of the illusion or the imagination and the inwardly hidden absolutely pure without that bringing into non-existence” ihya

  6. Therese Monaghan O.P.on 20 Mar 2013 at 6:41 am

    Ah–Li Po’s blessed simplicity in his images revealing profound understanding of our eternal self.
    Thank you for this poem, Ivan, and your commentary. It made me stop fussing around this morning and and just enjoy my being–in the stillness.

  7. lakshmikmbhaton 21 Mar 2013 at 11:09 pm

    A simply beautiful thought:)
    Thanks ,
    Lakshmi Bhat

  8. Michelleon 02 Dec 2018 at 1:49 am

    My absolutely favorite poem as I simply stepped into the landscape.

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