DRINKING IN MOONLIGHT
By Li Po
Translated by David Hinton
Among the blossoms, a single jar of wine.
No one else here, I ladle it out myself.
Raising my cup, I toast the bright moon,
and facing my shadow makes friends three,
though moon has never understood wine,
and shadow only trails along behind me.
Kindred a moment with moon and shadow,
I've found a joy that must infuse spring:
I sing, and moon rocks back and forth;
I dance, and shadow tumbles into pieces.
Sober, we're together and happy. Drunk,
we scatter away into our own directions:
intimates forever, we'll wander carefree
and meet again in Star River distances.
Note: Star River: Milky way
Painting : Watching the mid-autumn moon by by Xiao Yun
Li Po was one of the greatest poets of ancient China. The Chinese have valued Li Po for his gaiety, freedom, sympathy and energy for so long that he has become a sort of archetype of the bohemian artist and puckish wanderer. The story that he drowned when he drunkenly tried to embrace the moon in the river is doubtless apocryphal, but it is also delightfully apt to anyone who knows his work. This poem is no different.
Li Po made his solitary state into an ecstatic one because he knew how to transform his lonesomeness and associated sadness into joy. Life at its best, as Li Po envisions it, is a kind of intoxication, an elevation; poetry, like good wine, should help us get perspective on ourselves and put the cares of the world aside. Even nature, as Li Po likes to present it, has a kind of intoxicated quality, especially in spring. The poet's presentation of himself as drunkenly enjoying some natural setting is thus a cleverly unpretentious way of presenting transcendent states of mind and being. This idea isn't exclusive to Li Po, but he handles the metaphor of the bibulous poet in a tipsy world as well as anyone before or since.