Why Bai Juyi (白居易, 772–846) was stuck in Handan (in modern Hebei province), on a Winter’s Solstice, I don’t know. It was the beginning of deep dark winter and a break from farming when the family gathers to share stories, and he wanted to be home. We’ve all found ourselves stuck somewhere on a holiday, feeling sorry for ourselves, wishing we were home, sharing a warm drink and a laugh or two.
I can think of a couple of recent American movies that loosely follow this theme and a favorite song from World War II.*
This is Bai Juyi’s turn, left alone in a cold dark postal station with a small stove for warmth and light, no companion other than his shadow, and his thoughts, which become this poem.
Handan Homesick on a Winter Solstice Night
It’s the Winter solstice, so here I am, stuck at Handan’s postal stop
Grabbing my knees, before the fire, my shadow beside me, is all I got.
Missing you, needing you, wanting to be home, sitting with you, late this night
You too, should thinking of this faraway traveler.
Two modern American movies come to mind: Steve Martin and John Candy in Planes, Trains and Automobiles, trying to get home for Thanksgiving; and Home Alone 2, lost in New York, over Christmas; one could add An American Tail, a cartoon animation about a Jewish mouse’s separation from his family at Hanukkah. The 1943 song I’ll Be Home for Christmas, by lyricist Kim Gannon and composer Walter Kent also expresses the emotion beautifully.
Homesickness is of course a universal emotion. Missing one’s parents, one’s family, a love one, Bai Juyi’s expression “思家” thinking of family, says it simply and beautifully.