Li Bai (701 – 762) was friends with Du Fu, but on this night when he composed this poem he was alone with a pot of wine; for companions he had the moon, his shadow and his thoughts.
There is a story, there always is, that Li Bai, glass of wine in hand, drowned in a river when he tried to embrace the moon’s reflection. Some say the river was the Yangtze, the mother river of China. Some say he went to keep his appointment with the moon and the stars.
Some say Li Bai died at home in bed in Anlu (now in Hubei province).
One could translate the title of Li Bai’s poem variously as Drinking alone beneath the Moon or Under the Moon Alone and Pouring Wine. The latter is a more literal translation. I say “more” literal in the sense that all translations are imperfect. The pouring and drinking of wine is also a deliberate act in which one considers and ponders the mysteries of the world.
Pouring Wine (“literally” wine pouring, drinking, considering, deliberating)
DRINKING ALONE BENEATH THE MOON
Between the flowers from a pot of spirits
I drink alone. There is no one with me
Till, I raise my cup inviting the moon
To bring my shadow and make us three.
The moon, alas, can not drink
So my shadow only drinks with me;
But still for a while I have these friends
Happy that it must be Spring
I sing while the moon wanders off.
I dance. My shadow becomes disorderly
Awake from time to time we bosom three
Until I get drunk, and so, we lose each other
And this never ending wandering passion
Expecting to meet them at a distant time in the Cloudy Stars.
I feel my translation trails off the path in the middle and is lost in the brush at the end.
Take for instance, the second to last line
The first three characters:
may translate as “never ending” or “neverending” if one treats it as an adjective modifying,
an emotion that extends from love to passion and borders on kindness
comes out as “tour” but one could also choose wander, travel, …
The cloudy stars could be the Milky Way, but that would not be true to the Chinese.
- image of Li Bai, Encyclopedia Britannica, original image of the moon, Pixabay