Mt Emei Moon Song

A poem as a postcard — the image of an autumn half moon rising over Mt. Emei and its watery reflection, departing Qinxi, missing you, on the way to Yuzhou.

峨 眉 山 月 半 轮 秋
影 入 平 羌 江 水 流
夜 发 清 溪 向 三 峡
思 君 不 见 下 渝 州

峨 眉 山 月 歌
李白

Half an autumn moon above Mt Emei
Its reflection floating on the Qiang River
Tonight, departing Qingxi for Sanxia
Missing you, on my way to Yuzhou

Mt. Emei Moon Song, Li Bai, 725

Note. Sanxia, 三 峡, The Three Gorges. The Three Gorges (the Qutang, Wu, and Xiling) are three adjacent gorges along the middle stretch of the Yangtze River. They connect mountainous Sichuan with China’s interior. Presumably Li Bai was heading by boat to Chang’an, the capital of the Tang dynasty.

Shiokawa Bunrin’s pen and ink depiction of Li Bai passing Mt. Emei can be seen at The Met and online. Small gold flecks sprinkled along the river valley and in the mist makes a surreal scene under a half moon.

Emeishan yue ban lun qiu
Ying ru ping qiangjiang shui liu
Ye fa qingxi xiang sanxia
Si jun bu jian xia yuzhou

Éméishān yuè gē

Lost in Translation

The year was 724 during the long reign of the Emperor Xuanzong, also known as Ming Huang, “bright shining.” Li Bai was not yet the Rock Star he would become. Nor wass he yet the “Banished Immortal” who fell from grace. Li Bai’s poem reads like a postcard to home, with a twist that account for its popularity.

Having left his home and his family in Sichuan, Li Bai journeys by boat to Jiangyou, then Chengdu, south past Mt Emei, one of the four sacred Buddhist mountains of China. His eventual destination — Youzhou (a literary allusion to Chang’an, the Tang dynasty’s capital located in the ancient State of Yu, Youzhou Prefecture).

Pardon the Chuck Berry reference (Chuck Berry, No Particular Place to Go, 1964). One has to picture carefree Li Bai sailing along in his boat with no particular place to go, his curiosity running wild, hoping to make a name for himself as he goes along.

Tiāndì, Almost Heaven

In ancient China, the mountains were the connection between heaven and earth (Tiāndì, 天地). The moon became the carrier of human emotions to a distant loved one, especially so when its reflection was caught on a river. And Li Bai, our wayfaring traveler took this moment to tell someone (presumably his wife and family) that he was missing them dearly.

I have added a line at the end, “Not yet in Chang’an.” The sentiment implied, like that of any Hollywood hopeful describing their day.

Place Names

Mt Emei, 峨 眉 山, in Sichuan Province, is one of four sacred Buddhist mountains in China. (The other three being: Mount Wutai, Shanxi Province; Mount Putuo, Zhejiang Province: and Mount Jiuhua, Anhui Province). As it is where Buddhism was first established in China, it is considered a place of Enlightenment. It lies at the base of the confluence of three rivers, one of which is the Qiang River, 羌江.

The location of Qingxi, 清 溪 is unclear. If by this, Li Bai meant Qingxi River, Anhui Province, this is over 100 miles east of Mt. Emei, and therefore difficult to reach in a day.

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