Chinese have had a love affair with towers since early on and the Huanghelou, Yellow Crane Tower, is perhaps the most famous. Various reincarnations of it have soared high into ther sky on the south bank of the Chiangjiang for centuries. Many poems have been written here. Li Bo's poem is famous but an older poem by 崔顥 Cui Hao, predates Li Bo's. Li Bo greatly admired Cui Hao's poem and imitated it in his poem 'Climbing Phoenix Terrace at Chinling'
The origin of the Huanghelou is shrouded in the mists of time. But there are myths about it's construction. In the first translation into English of Li Bo's poems in book form, Shigeyoshi Obata's, 'The works of Li Po, the Chinese Poet', Obatasan has this to say:
"The Yellow Crane tower stood till a recent date not far from the city of Wuchang, Hubei, on a hill overlooking the Yangtze-kiang.
Once upon a time a dead man of Shu (presumably a daoist who had shed his skin to become an immortal). traveling on the back of a yellow crane, stopped here to rest. Hence the name of the tower.
There is another interesting story, just as authentic, according to which: there stood here a tavern kept by a man who's name was Chin, to whom one day a tall rugged professor in rags came and asked very complacently, "I have no money, will you give me wine?" The tavern keeper was game; he readily offered to the stranger the biggest tumbler and allowed him to help himself to all the wine he wanted day after day for half a year.
At last the professor said to Chin, " I owe you some wine money. I'll pay you now." So saying, he took lemon peels and with them smeared on the wall a picture of a yellow crane, which at the clapping of his hands came to life and danced to the tune of his song. The spectacle soon brought forth a fortune to the tavern keeper; he became rich. Then the professor left, flying away on the crane, whither no one knew. The grateful tavern keeper built the tower in commemoration and called it the Yellow Crane Tower"
Audio is the Texas troubador Billy Joe Shaver singing his composition When I Get My Wings, an American Daoist country song.
At the 1999 meeting of the Asociation of Asian Studies, Wei Shang of Columbia University gave a paper on the poetic obsession with the Yellow Crane tower. His abstract reads:
"With poems like his "Yellow Crane Tower," Cui Hao (?–754) established himself as one of the premier poets of the High Tang. Though not the first poem to be composed on that landmark, his was the one that was recognized as definitive, exerting a shaping and conditioning influence on poetic representation of that locale for generations to come. In response to Cui Hao’s poem, Li Bai (701–62) wrote a poem on the Phoenix Tower at Jinling, which in turn guaranteed Li’s own poetic dominion over that spot. But beneath this apparent triumph lies a story of frustration: anecdote has it that Li Bai once ascended Yellow Crane Tower, but left without having been able to compose anything—reduced to unwilling silence by Cui’s poem inscribed conspicuously on the tower’s wall.
Yet Li Bai was to recover from this silence: in several subsequent poems, he continues an oblique dialogue with Cui Hao’s "Yellow Crane Tower." This paper will address two sets of issues arising from a reading of these poems: the first concerns the question of poetic authority and competition among High Tang poets; the second centers on the actual or imagined conditions under which these poems were composed, circulated, and responded to. In one poem, Li Bai imagines that he has smashed Yellow Crane Tower to pieces; in another he envisions it reconstructed, with a freshly painted wall—an invitation to him to inscribe a new poem on it. The repainted wall assumes a double role in the production of meaning in the poem, erasing or covering over Cui Hao’s poem while at the same time opening up a new space for Li Bai’s own creative imagination."