Chinese poet (701-762). He was born in the Szechwan (or Sichuan) region of China. Though he was educated, he never attempted the examinations for Imperial service, choosing instead to leave his family's home at the age of 19 to live with a Taoist hermit. He spent the rest of his life wandering across China. He married several times, but never had a home of his own -- he either lived with his wives' families or claimed hospitality from other families named Li.

He fancied himself a knight errant in his youth. He began showing his poetry to officials, hoping to gain employment as a secretary, but his love of wine worked against him -- potential employers feared he'd be unreliable or would reveal their secrets while drunk.

In 742, he visited the capital, Ch'ang-an, where he was briefly favored by the Emperor. He also established friendships with several other poets -- together, they became known as the Eight Immortals of the Wine Cup. He resumed his travels a couple of years later and renewed his interests in Taoism and alchemy. He fell under suspicion of treason after joining an expedition to South China led by a former prince and plotter against the Emperor, but was released in a general amnesty in 758. He lived out the rest of his life doing the two things he enjoyed most -- drinking and writing poems.

Li Po's verse praised nature, commemorated old friends, and often dipped into whimsical fantasies -- from his poem "Alone and Drinking Under the Moon": "Amongst the flowers I am alone with my pot of wine drinking by myself; then lifting my cup I asked the moon to drink with me..."

Research from GURPS Who's Who 2, compiled by Phil Masters, "Li Po" by William H. Stoddard, pp. 26-27. Other assistance from interrobang.
Li Po is romanized as Li Bai in modern Pinyin, which is a closer approximation of the Mandarin pronunciation, but Li Po remains the standard in Western media.

He is one of the most beloved figures of Chinese history and literature--and also one of the earliest and mostly widely known to European and American audiences. Ezra Pound's (rather free) translations are a famous example.
My favorite Li Bai poem, which I learned by heart when I was a child (one of only two such poems that I can still remember):

"Chuan qian ming yue guang
Yi shi di shang shuang.
Ju tou wang ming yue,
Di tou si gu xiang."
Please msg me with corrections of the romanization.

My own translation:

Moonlight before bed
Like frost upon ground.
Raise head to see moon,
Lower to think: home.

I translated this poem in British Literature class one day when we were studying Coleridge's poem Frost at Midnight, which talks about the unbearable silence of being alone late at night in the countryside and how everything that you see in nature is really only a projection and amplification of what you have inside of you.

To me, the quintessential Li Bai is Zazen On Ching-t'ing Mountain...

The birds have vanished down the sky.
Now the last cloud drains away.

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

On a pedantic point of information, as Wintersweet correctly points out, the pinyin of the great poet's name is Li Bai in modern Mandarin.

However, the "correct" pronunciation of the name follows a (now rare) classical reading - Li Bo. The character is of course the same, the bai that commonly means white or blank (白). The classical pronunciation can be seen when bai is used as the phonetic element in other characters, for example bo (伯) with the 'person' radical meaning uncle or with the 'wood' radical meaning cypress (柏) (The familiar romanisation seen in the node title looks like an example of Wade-Giles which used p to represent the consonant that pinyin now renders using a b).

More confusingly still, chances are that it was probably pronounced closer to modern Cantonese bak back in the day, if what I've read about Classical Chinese is correct, so this is, as I've said, pedantry.

But this is yet another of those quirks of the language designed to provide the eager foreigner with one more chance to show their ignorance of China's five thousand years of splendid culture. A chance I naturally took with open arms when offered. Hence the heads-up.

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