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WANG WEI (699-761)

DU FU (721-770)

"Drinking Alone under the Moon"

"Drinking Alone under the Moon," by Li Bo

Among the flowers, a single jug of wine;
I drink alone. No one close to me.
I raise my cup, invite the bright moon;
facing my shadow, together we make three.
The moon doesn't know how to drink;
and my shadow can only follow my body.
But for a time I make moon and shadow my companions;
taking one's pleasure must last until spring.
I sing — the moon wavers back and forth.
I dance — my shadow flickers and scatters.
When I'm sober we take pleasure together.
When I'm drunk, we each go our own ways.
I make an oath to journey forever free of feelings,
making an appointment with them to meet in the Milky Way afar.

[Translation by Paul Rouzer]

Paul Rouzer :: A good example of one of Li Bo's poems is his famous "Drinking Alone under the Moon." Drinking alone, itself, is an unusual topic for a Chinese poem, because the ancient Chinese tended to be very sociable drinkers.

Nobody would ever drink by himself. He would only drink at parties with other people. And so, for Li Bo to talk about drinking alone was a particularly striking topic for him to choose.

And the only way that he can deal with this drinking alone is to create for himself companions. And finding himself alone in this poem, he creates his own companions in an act of incredible creative pride and egotism.

Li Bo himself was particularly attractive to many of the Chinese readers of his time, because he seized upon the essential idea of Chinese poetics — the idea that Chinese poem was a spontaneous expression of the self — and elaborated on it, until he created an extremely overbearing, powerful persona for himself, quite unlike any sort of persona that had existed in Chinese poetry up to that point.