I’d seen a tomb of a dead poet’s clothes; it was an odd, almost surreal, experience. I stayed at the tomb – of the clothes – for some time, whilst my daughter kept trying to hurry me on.
Eventually,we caught a taxi to the real mausoleum, that of the poet himself. A large sprawling complex rambled off the highway in between nothing and nothing much more. Just farmlands – a welcome sight from the relentless encroach of suburbia that had gobbled the countryside all the say from Shanghai to Nanjing.
The architecture was similar to the Suzhounese gardens – white walls, moon gates, ponds and pavilions – many perfect photo opportunities in the making. Etchings of many of Li Bai’s poems lined the white walls of the corridors. A kiosk sold books and wooden replicas of the sword he wore most of the time.
A decade or so ago, an expressway threatened to cut right thought Li Bai’s tomb. The locals protested, and in the end, the highway runs past outside the gardens constructed around his grave.
Li Bai wrote many of his poems at Ma’anshan, with its strategic position along the Yangtze River. When I was there, crowds gathered at a temple erected in his honour, lighting incense in memory of the poet.
The tomb itself was a high, round mound, central to a small courtyard.
During his life, Li Bai captured the imagination of kings, princesses, swordsmen, nobles and commoners. His brilliance lay in his ability to compose complex rhyming poems, each style with a specific set of rhythm and rhyme, on the spot.
The Wine Immortal, Li Bai, raises his glass to posterity.