From Whose House Does the Secret Sound of a Jade Flute Fly?

by Gerald Marchewka - Date: 2007-01-20 - Word Count: 850 Share This!

In a lovely description of heavenly sounds that may captivate the mind, and capture the human soul, this provocative poem embraces the venerable notion that music is, none other than, .... the sacred sound of angels.

As precarious as this may seem, if this is indeed so, .... then would it not also be true that poetry may be heard from across the whole of the sky?

In a great example of the immeasurable spirit of the sound and meaning of Li Bai's illustrious words, .... our venerated poet writes,

From whose house does the secret sound of a jade flute fly,

Its lost .... amidst the spring wind which fills Luoyang city.

Yet in the middle of the night I remember hearing a willow break.

So who .... would not begin to have feelings for his home.

Secret Sounds Lost in Luoyang City

Perhaps another bittersweet moment in the life of our long lost poet, this poem calls to mind all of the sweet sounds that may elevate the human spirit, .... and release all of the natural rhythms that may soothe a troubled mind.

It is interesting to note that the heavenly sounds that may have had an affect upon our poet's mind .... were set in Luoyang, an ancient Chinese city.

Situated in Northeast China's Henan province, Luoyang was a major cultural center during the time in which Li Bai lived.

As an ancient city, Luoyang was not only a site for poetic inspiration, it was a place that inspired a whole range of musical expression as well.

In Luoyang, as in other major cultural centers, music was typically played on solo instruments or in small ensembles. This traditional music, included a variety of styles played on ancient instruments that included stringed instruments, flutes, cymbals, gongs and drums.

Among these instruments flutes have had special significance as the discovery of an ancient flute made of bone indicates that traditional Chinese music may be 7000 to 8000 years old.

In terms of poetry, the High Tang era, the period in which Li Bai lived was also a very important time.

Many Tang Dynasty poems have become a very significant part of China's vast cultural reservoir, including references to Luoyang, a city in which Li Bai and Du Fu were said to have met.

The meetings between these two highly esteemed poets continue to have tremendous significance upon Chinese culture to this day.

The poems which describe these very important meetings, not only add an extra dimension to an impressive canon of poetry, they also bring another human element to a body of poems that are incomparably, deep and wide.

The Sound of a Breaking Willow

What distinguishes "Hearing a Flute on a Spring Night in Luoyang" from other examples of Li Bai's work, is however, the unique joy that he seems to feel as he describes the exceptional relationship between rhythm, meaning and sound.

Perhaps the quintessential elements of poetry, .... rhythm, meaning and sound .... are in this particular case, woven into a remarkable rhyme .... that may make the mind ponder the existence of heaven up above ... or even the sacred sound of angels ...... floating amidst a big, black sky.

At the same time, these remarkable rhymes may make a curious man .... begin to break his flight realize the natural rhythms that may exist, .... only .... here on earth.

And when we consider the nature of this sad, melancholic poem, it is fascinating to consider the meaning of Li Bai's "breaking willow'.

As the willow is an important symbol in our poets' work, it also appears in a slightly different form, in his highly acclaimed poem, "Lao Lao Ting Pavilion".

In a work that may be described as tender and sad, Li Bai describes the emotional pain of bidding farewell to yet another .... faithful friend.

In reference to a "green willow" and the departure of a true brother, .... he fatefully concludes in a sad sardonic tone, "this twig will never be green again".

So Who .... would not Begin to have Feelings for his Home?

The extent to which a breaking willow is a symbol of sadness, similar to a breaking heart, is certainly an issue which warrants much further consideration.

And as we consider the life of Li Bai, there is no doubt that a number of fateful twists may have lingered deep within the poets' mind.

These events include a complicated birth on the Central Asian steppe, a divorce from his first wife and two children, and a subsequent jail term for supporting Prince Li Lin.

Li Lin was a political adversary of the reigning emperor during this late High Tang period. As a rival, he was however, unable to seize power in a period of great political upheaval.

While each of these events may have contributed to the poets' world weary spirit, there is little doubt that Jiangyou, the place in which Li Bai spent his formative years had at least some impact upon his early development.

Situated in Southeast China's Sichuan province, Jiangyou has a number of beautiful mountain peaks and unique caverns that must have stimulated the poets' early appreciation of nature. Sichuan is surrounded by Tibet, Qinghai, Gansu, Yunnan, Guizhou and Hunan. It is believed that Li Bai traveled extensively through many of China's southwest and central regions, as well as nearby Kyrgyzstan.

Related Tags: china, music, philosophy, flute, wine, angels, poetry, taoism, jade, li bai, romanticism, sichuan

Gerald Marchewka is an American freelance writer currently living in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. He may be reached at

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