Poetry is meant to be read and reread. The retelling changing the meaning ever so slightly. So, I am rereading and retelling Li Bai’s famous poem, Thoughts on a Silent Night.
Thoughts on a Silent Night
Moonlight falls at the foot of my bed,
Seeming like frost on the frozen ground.
I look up and see the bright moon,
And look down, reminded of my hometown.
Li Bai (701-762) was perhaps the most famous Chinese Tang poet living in what has been described as the Golden Age of Chinese Poetry. He was friend and drinking companion to Du Fu, another well-known poet.
Tragedy often mythologizes a life. Li Bai wrote several poems about the Emperor’s beautiful and beloved Yang Guifei, but she took offense to the tone, and caused his dismissal.
Li Bai chose to become a Taoist priest, and might have lived out a long and happy life but for the rebellion of the general An Lushan in 755. Li Bai became a staff advisor to a member of the the imperial family who took to feuding with the prince who eventually became the new emperor. Sentenced to death, Li Bai’s life was spared. Sentenced to exile, he wandered, writing poetry along the way, reminiscing about family and friends.
Perhaps, that is why he wrote this poem.
One must add one final comment, popular legend says that he drowned when, sitting drunk in a boat, he tried to grasp the moon’s reflection on the water.
French translation of Li Bai’s Thoughts on a Silent Night
Pensées sur un nuit silencieuse
Le clair de lune tombe au pied de mon lit,
Semblant comme le givre sur le sol gelé.
Je lève les yeux et vois la lune brillante,
Et regarde en bas, a rappelé de ma ville natale.
Jìng yè sī
Chuáng qián míng yuè guāng,
Yí shì dì shàng shuāng.
Jǔ tóu wàng míng yuè,
Dī tóu sī gù xiāng.
Note the rhyme. Also note the interplay of the title Jìng yè sī and the last three characters of the poem, sī gù xiāng, literally, remember your hometown. Li Bai’s hometown was Jiangyou, near modern Chengdu, the capital of China’s Sichuan province.