Li Bai (701–762) is one of the most famous poets from the Tang Dynasty and the Golden Age of Poetry in 8th Century China. He wandered from place to place for most of his life, drinking and writing. Leading the life of a wanderer, a recluse and as a free spirit, Li Bai, in many ways, embodies Taoist philosophies. Li Bai’s extensive works include more than nine hundred poems, which artistically recount his own life, social reality and the spirit of the high Tang Dynasty. Three years of political life in Chang’an exerted a great influence on Li Bai’s literary creation. He found that his own political ideals were in sharp contradiction with the sleazier sides of social reality, which inspired him to write a series of famous poems to express his frustrations.
Drinking Alone Under the Moon is one of his signature poems and deals with the ancient social custom of drinking. It was deemed a great social faux pas to drink alone but he created his own companions: the moon and his shadow, but both seem reluctant companions and what the poem leaves you with is a sense of despair and deep-set loneliness.
Drinking Alone Under the Moon by Li Bai
Among the blossoms waits a jug of wine.
I pour myself a drink, no loved one near.
Raising my cup, I invite the bright moon
and turn to my shadow. We are now three.
But the moon doesn’t understand drinking,
and my shadow follows my body like a slave.
For a time, moon and shadow will be my companions,
a passing joy that should last through the spring.
I sing, and the moon just wavers in the sky;
I dance and my shadow whips around like mad.
While lucid still, we have such fun together!
But stumbling drunk, each stagger off alone.
Bound forever, relentless we roam:
reunited at last on the distant river of stars.