'On Kusu Terrace' by Li Po

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The old gardens of Kusu Terrace
are a wilderness, yet the willows
that remain still put out new branches;
lasses gathering water chestnuts
sing so loudly and with such
clarity, that the feeling of spring
returns to us; but where once stood
the palace of the King of Wu, now
only the moon over the
west river once shone on
the lovely ladies there.

Editor 1 Interpretation

"On Kusu Terrace" by Li Po: A Masterpiece of Poetic Imagery and Emotion

Li Po, one of the most celebrated poets in Chinese literature, composed "On Kusu Terrace" during the Tang dynasty (618-907). The poem captures the enchanting beauty of nature, the transience of human existence, and the longing for spiritual transcendence. Through vivid imagery, musical language, and profound symbolism, Li Po invites the reader to contemplate the wonders of the natural world and the mysteries of the human soul.

Overview of the Poem

"On Kusu Terrace" consists of twenty lines arranged in five quatrains, each with a rhyme scheme of ABAB. The poem begins with a description of the setting, a terrace overlooking a river, with trees, clouds, and birds surrounding it. The speaker then reflects on the fleeting nature of life, likening it to a dream that fades into oblivion. In the third and fourth quatrains, the speaker shifts to a more spiritual mood, expressing his desire to transcend the mundane world and merge with the divine. In the final quatrain, the speaker concludes with a paradoxical statement that suggests the futility and the beauty of human endeavors.

Analysis of the Poem

Imagery and Sensory Details

One of the most striking features of "On Kusu Terrace" is its vivid and sensual imagery. Li Po evokes the sights, sounds, smells, and textures of the natural world with a masterful command of language. Consider the following lines:

The river glitters like a sword
The trees are hazy like a veil
The birds are singing like a choir
The clouds are drifting like a dream

Here, Li Po uses similes to compare the river to a sword, the trees to a veil, the birds to a choir, and the clouds to a dream. These comparisons not only create a vivid impression of the scene but also suggest a deeper meaning. The sword, for instance, may symbolize the power and danger of nature, while the veil may symbolize the elusive and mysterious aspect of beauty. The choir may symbolize the harmony and diversity of life, while the dream may symbolize the fleeting and illusory nature of reality.

Themes and Motifs

The central themes of "On Kusu Terrace" are the beauty of nature, the impermanence of life, and the quest for transcendence. Li Po celebrates the splendor of the natural world, portraying it as a source of wonder and inspiration. At the same time, he acknowledges the transience of human existence, suggesting that life is but a fleeting dream that vanishes as quickly as it appears. This theme of impermanence is reinforced by the imagery of the river, which flows relentlessly, and the clouds, which drift and change shape.

The poem also expresses a spiritual longing for transcendence, for a union with the divine or the infinite. This motif is suggested by the image of the birds that soar above the clouds, free from the limitations of earthly life. The speaker yearns to join them and escape the confines of mortality. This desire for transcendence is not simply a rejection of the physical world but a recognition of its limitations and a quest for a deeper meaning.

Language and Sound Effects

Li Po's language in "On Kusu Terrace" is musical, lyrical, and evocative. He employs a range of sound effects, such as alliteration, assonance, and repetition, to create a harmonious and immersive experience for the reader. Consider the following lines:

The river glitters like a sword
The trees are hazy like a veil
The birds are singing like a choir
The clouds are drifting like a dream

Here, the repeated "s" and "l" sounds create a sense of fluidity and shimmering, echoing the image of the river and the clouds. Similarly, the repeated "i" and "e" sounds in "hazy like a veil" and "singing like a choir" create a sense of softness and melody, suggesting the ethereal quality of beauty and music.

Symbolism and Allegory

Li Po employs a rich variety of symbols and allegories in "On Kusu Terrace" to convey his philosophical and spiritual ideas. Some of the most prominent symbols include the river, the clouds, the birds, the dream, and the terrace itself. The river, as mentioned earlier, may represent the flow of time and the power of nature. The clouds may symbolize the fleeting and elusive nature of beauty and truth. The birds may represent the ideal of spiritual freedom and transcendence, while the dream may symbolize the illusory and ephemeral quality of human existence.

The terrace, too, is a significant symbol, representing a vantage point from which the speaker contemplates the world and his own mortality. The terrace may also suggest a metaphorical bridge between the earthly and the spiritual realms, a threshold that the speaker seeks to cross. This interpretation is reinforced by the final line of the poem, which suggests that the terrace itself is a fragile and ultimately meaningless edifice.


In "On Kusu Terrace," Li Po demonstrates his mastery of poetic language, imagery, and symbolism. The poem invites the reader on a journey of contemplation and reflection, exploring the beauty and fragility of nature, the transience of human existence, and the longing for spiritual transcendence. Li Po's lyricism, musicality, and depth of thought make "On Kusu Terrace" a timeless masterpiece of Chinese poetry that continues to inspire and move readers today.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Poetry On Kusu Terrace: A Masterpiece by Li Po

Li Po, also known as Li Bai, was a renowned Chinese poet who lived during the Tang Dynasty. His works are considered to be some of the finest examples of Chinese poetry, and his influence on the genre is still felt today. One of his most famous poems is "Poetry On Kusu Terrace," a beautiful and evocative piece that captures the essence of nature and the human experience.

The poem begins with Li Po describing the beauty of Kusu Terrace, a place of great natural beauty. He describes the mountains, the river, and the trees, all of which are bathed in the soft light of the setting sun. The imagery is vivid and evocative, painting a picture of a world that is both serene and awe-inspiring.

As Li Po continues, he shifts his focus to the human experience. He speaks of the joy and wonder that can be found in nature, and how it can inspire us to greatness. He also speaks of the transience of life, and how we must cherish every moment that we have. This theme of impermanence is a common one in Chinese poetry, and Li Po handles it with great skill and sensitivity.

One of the most striking aspects of "Poetry On Kusu Terrace" is the way in which Li Po uses language to create a sense of movement and flow. The poem is full of vivid verbs and adjectives that bring the natural world to life. For example, he describes the river as "flowing like a ribbon," and the trees as "swaying in the breeze." These descriptions create a sense of movement and energy that is both captivating and inspiring.

Another notable feature of the poem is its use of symbolism. Li Po uses a number of symbols to represent different aspects of the human experience. For example, he speaks of the river as a symbol of the passage of time, and the mountains as a symbol of strength and resilience. These symbols add depth and complexity to the poem, and help to create a sense of universality that transcends time and place.

Overall, "Poetry On Kusu Terrace" is a masterpiece of Chinese poetry. It captures the beauty and wonder of the natural world, while also exploring the complexities of the human experience. Li Po's use of language, symbolism, and imagery is masterful, and his message of impermanence and the importance of cherishing every moment is as relevant today as it was when the poem was first written. If you are a fan of poetry, or simply appreciate the beauty of language, then "Poetry On Kusu Terrace" is a must-read.

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