Li He was from Chengji in Longxi, Gansu. He had the good fortune of meeting the statesman Han Yu, however he was barred from taking the jinshi examination due to a technicality with his name. He became ill and died at the young age of 26, but only after composing some striking poems.|
恆後小奚奴, 騎距驢, 背一古破錦囊, 遇有所得, 即書投囊中. 及暮歸, 太夫人使婢受囊出之, 見所書多, 輒曰, 是兒要當嘔出心乃已爾. 上燈與食, 長吉從婢取書, 研墨壘紙足成之, 投他囊中.
Li Shangyin 813?-858 wrote a Small Biography of Li He which has the following anecdote about Li He's writing habits:
Often he'd ride off on his donkey with a young servant girl following him, dangling an ancient ragged silk brocade sack from his shoulder. When inspiration hit him, he'd jot it down on a scrap of paper and fling it in his sack. One day, returning home in the evening his mother gave the sack to the servant girl and she dumped out the crumpled notes. Seeing such a big pile of notes, his mother mother qipped, "This kid won't quit until he has vomited out his heart!" Lighting the lamps they sat down to dinner. Afterwards the servant girl handed him the notes. He ground his ink, and composed a pile of completed poems, promptly tossing them into another sack.
We are indebted to Stephen Owen for bringing this anecdote to our attention in his book The End of the Chinese Middle Ages, Stanford University Press.