Gabriel Rosenstock: Conversations with Li He

If ever a poet was the ‘priest of the invisible’ then it is Li He. Li He is the ‘wild man’ of poetry who disappeared into the wilderness of his own imagination. In Gabriel Rosenstock’s beautiful poetic dialogue, Conversations with Li He, we hear him call back to our own age from across the millennia. We retrace the steps of his artistic journey. We follow the paths of the breeze and the moon.
Dr Mícheál Ó hAodha, University of Limerick

li he poetry


Whilst seriously ill in hospital in 2019, Gabriel Rosenstock was given a copy of The Collected Poems of Li He. In the months that followed, he immersed himself in the crepuscular, darkling and erotic world of this Chinese ‘crazy poet’ of the late Tang Dynasty. More than any other Irish poet of our times, Rosenstock has long engaged in a remarkable dialogue with the poetry of the east. Here, in one of his finest collections ever, he speaks to the spirit of the doomed Li He, who died in his twenties. In these finely tuned lyrical conversations, we are brought ‘over the hills and far away’ into a world where we smell plum blossoms and courtesans’ perfume; we hear cuckoo calls and ‘dancing music from all quarters’; and enter an ancient world of war, drought and plague that has uncanny resonances of our own age. These beautiful and glittering poems ‘sing to the stars’, both in Rosenstock’s exquisite original Irish and in Gary Bannister’s lucent English translations.

Liam Carson, Director IMRAM festival, author of Call Mother a Lonely Field

Copies of Conversations  with LI He are available here


Gabriel Rosenstock: Eight Poems from Conversations with Li He
translated by Garry Bannister

Li He cover


How pleasant for me to be so close to you
Even though there stands a thousand-year abyss between us.

Here we go, drinking again together tonight
I know where there’s a pub
And no one will bother us there
We could do some bitching about other poets
None would understand a syllable of our secret reptilian tongue

I have a poem that I’d like to show you
I’m not certain about the last line
There is something missing
Or perhaps the title might be wrong

For some time now I have been writing poems without titles
What might be the reason for that?
If we get fed up talking
We can start barking

‘Drink up! Time, Gentlemen, please. . .’

Cairde cnis

Nach méanar dom mé a bheith mór leat
Cé go bhfuil míle bliain ina chlais eadrainn

Seo linn ag ól arís anocht
Tá cur amach agamsa ar thábhairne
Is ní chuirfidh éinne isteach orainn ann
D’fhéadfaimis a bheith ag bitseáil faoi fhilí eile
Ní thuigfear siolla dár rúnallagar biastamhail

Tá dán agam is mian liom a thaispeáint duit
Nílim cinnte faoin líne dheireanach ann
Tá rud éigin in easnamh air
nó d’fhéadfadh an teideal a bheith mícheart

Le tamall anuas tá dánta gan teideal á scríobh agam
Cén chúis a bheadh leis sin?
Má éirímid bréan den chaint
d’fhéadaimis tosú ag tafann

‘A fheara, tá an t-am istigh . . .’


waters 3cropped


You see through people, Li He,
like autumn waters.

Restless, radiant, capricious
are April’s showers
We don’t see anything today
but a world glistening
listening without questioning our attitude

Only the waters of autumn
will tell us who we are

The layers falling from us
gently as leaves

Uiscí an fhómhair

Féachann tú trí dhaoine, a Lí Hé,
mar uiscí an fhómhair

Giodamach gléigeal guagach iad
ceathanna mhí Aibreáin
ní fheicimid faic inniu
ach domhan ag glioscarnach
is é ag freagairt gan cheist dár meon

uiscí an fhómhair amháin
a inseoidh dúinn cé sinn féin

Sraitheanna dínn féin ag titim
go séimh ina nduilleoga


birds cropped


Would the birds of the air sing more sweetly
if they were schooled?

Giolc na n-éan

An gcanfadh éanlaith an aeir níos binne
dá gcuirfí scolaíocht orthu?


emperor cropped


The Emperor has summoned you
Does he know that you are distantly related to him?
(extremely distantly)

The Emperor has summoned you
Which direction? Which Way
will you choose?
The Way of the White Cloud?
That will not take you to the Emperor.

An tImpire

Tá an tImpire tar éis fios a chur ort
An eol dó go bhfuil gaol i bhfad amach agat leis?
(i bhfad i bhfad amach)

Tá an tImpire tar éis fios a chur ort
Cén Treo? Cén Bealach
a roghnóidh tú?
Bealach an Scamaill Bháin?
Ní thabharfaidh sé sin go dtí an tImpire thú.


winds cropped


Autumnal winds
fleecing the trees without pity or compassion
each leaf a poem that wasn’t written
Who would write a poem
and wars being waged
in every corner of the globe
only a fool who didn’t know
what he was jotting down
with his crazy brush

Your syllables choked
by the gales of autumn

Gaotha an fhómhair

Gaotha an fhómhair
crainn á lomadh gan trua gan taise
gach duilleog ina dán nár scríobhadh
Cé a scríobhfadh dán
agus cogaí á bhfearadh
i ngach cúinne den chruinne
ach gealt nach bhfuil a fhios aige
cad atá á bhreacadh
ag a scuab bhuile

Do chuid siollaí tachta
ag gálaí an fhómhair


weird cropped


Who could make sense
out of what’s been written
by Zhang Xu?

After drink has been taken
all sense is forsaken.

What a sight he is

Having dyed his hair with ink
running around like a lunatic
Is he a penman or a pooka?
who could ever make any sense
of his disheveled writings?

Zhang Xu –
his hair standing bolt-upright
empowering poetry

Tá cairde aite agat, a Lí

Cé a bhainfeadh ciall
as an méid atá scríofa
ag Zhang Xu

Nuair a bhíonn an braon istigh
bíonn an chiall amuigh

Nach iontach an feic é

A chuid gruaige tumtha i ndúch aige
is é ag imeacht ina ghealt
An peannaire nó púca é?
Cé a bhainfeadh ciall go deo
as a chuid folt-scríbhinní

Zhang Xu –
a chuid gruaige ina colgsheasamh
ag pabhar na filíochta


tax man crop


Pelting rain
and not a living soul out today
except for the tax collector

Tuilleadh báistí

Gleadhradh baistí
is gan duine ná deoraí amuigh inniu
ach an bailitheoir cánach


slanting trees cropped


I found you
amidst the shadows of the slanting trees
I didn’t know that I was looking for you
nor did I know that you were
avoiding me

I searched for you
neither of us know how long
and I have found you

Shadows of the slanting trees

Scáileanna na gcrann ar sceabha

Aimsím thú
i measc scáileanna na gcrann ar sceabha
ní raibh a fhios agam go rabhas do do lorg
ná raibh a fhios agam go rabhais-se do mo sheachaint

Lorgaíos thú
Ní heol do cheachtar againn cén fhaid
is d’aimsíos thú

Scáileanna na gcrann ar sceabha


The Poet:

Gabriel Rosenstock was born in postcolonial Ireland and is a poet, tankaist, haikuist, short story writer, novelist, playwright, essayist, blogger, translator and children’s writer. Secret of Secrets/ Rún na Rún is a recent title in a series of free ekphrastic tanka books published in association with Cross-Cultural Communications, New York:

He says of this line by Li He –which translates as ‘the pitter-patter of rain on Dongting Lake is like the playing of a flute’ – dòng tíng yǔ jiǎo lái chuī sheng: ‘There is some evidence to suggest that it was written by myself.’

The Translator:

Garry Bannister set up the first Department of Modern Irish at Moscow State University in the
late 1970s, where he also lectured while completing his PhD. He is the author of Essential Irish,
Foclóir an Fhoghlaimeora, Teasáras na Gaeilge among many others. His work includes Proverbs in Irish and the first comprehensive translation of Zen koans in English and Irish, A Path Home –
Conair Siar, both published by New Island.

The Illustrator:

Tania Stokes is a student at the Dún Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology. She
studies a wide range of artistic disciplines from mixed media illustration to digital animation.
Her previously published work includes artwork for Garry Bannister’s Proverbs in Irish and A Path Home – Conair Siar.

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