Li Bo was one of the great poets of the Tang Dynasty. The first selection is probably the best-known poem in China and has been memorized by schoolchildren for centuries. The second poem, entitled “Drinking Alone in Moonlight”, reflects the poet’s carefree attitude towards life.
Du Fu, Li Bo’s prime competitor as the greatest poet of the Tang Dynasty, was often the more reflective of the two. In the final piece here, the poet has returned to his home in the capital after a rebellion against the dynasty has left the city in ruins.
Li Bo, Quiet Night Thoughtsi
Beside my bed the bright moonbeams bound
Almost as if there were frost on the ground.
Raising up, I gaze at the Mountain moon;
Lying back, I think of my old home town.
Li Bo, Drinking Alone in Moonlightii
Among the flowers, with a jug of wine,
I drink all alone – no one to share.
Raising my cup, I welcome the moon.
And my shadow joins us, making a threesome.
Alas! The moon won’t take part in the drinking,
And my shadow just does whatever I do.
But I’m friends for a while with the moon and my shadow,
And we caper in revels well suited to spring.
As I sing the moon seems to sway back and forth;
As I dance my shadow goes flopping about.
As long as I’m sober we’ll enjoy one another,
And when I get drunk, we’ll go our own ways:
Forever committed to carefree play,
We’ll all meet again in the Milky Way!
Du Fu, Spring Prospectiii
The capital is taken. The hills and streams are left,
And with spring in the city the grass and trees grown dense.
Mourning the times, the flowers trickle their tears;
Saddened with parting, the birds make my heart flutter.
The army beacons have flamed for three months;
A letter from home would be worth ten thousand in gold.
My white hears I have anxiously scratched ever shorter;
But such disarray! Even hairpins will do no good!
i Reprinted from China’s Imperial Past
by Charles O. Hucker, Stanford University Press. Copyright 1975 by the Board of Trustees of the Leland Standford Junior University.