On a Moonlight Night
- Poetry of Du Fu


- Last updated: 2024-04-26 10:22:12

On a Moonlight Night by Du Fu





English Translation

Far off in Fuzhou she is watching the moonlight,

Watching it alone from the window of her chamber-

For our boy and girl, poor little babes,

Are too young to know where the Capital is.

Her cloudy hair is sweet with mist,

Her jade-white shoulder is cold in the moon.

...When shall we lie again, with no more tears,

Watching this bright light on our screen?


This poem dates from 756; Hawkes suggests that it was written at the time of the Mid-Autumn festival, when families traditionally watched the moon together.

A poem dedicated to his wife, Du Fu crafts sweet and sensory language to heighten the sense of longing between husband and wife. The focus of the poem on the moon already creates a sense of loneliness and of secrecy. Readers can infer the Du Fu is away in Chang’an while the rest of his family resides in Fuzhou, and that he and his wife had made deep memories in Chang’an before. In fact, during the An Lushan Rebellion, the two were trapped there for ten years, and naturally, shared many sorrows there together. His comparison of the naivety of his children with the painful truths of adulthood serves to further highlight his past sorrows. The poet goes on to describe the way in which the moon interacts with his wife, revealing his desire to be with her: the 香雾 (sweet-smelling fog) and 清辉 (cold clouds) could represent their relationship, with the moon seeming to substitute the way in which Du Fu would caress his wife. It is only the beautiful yet cold-hearted moon that connects the two.

Why Chinese poems is so special?
The most distinctive features of Chinese poetry are: concision- many poems are only four lines, and few are much longer than eight; ambiguity- number, tense and parts of speech are often undetermined, creating particularly rich interpretative possibilities; and structure- most poems follow quite strict formal patterns which have beauty in themselves as well as highlighting meaningful contrasts.
How to read a Chinese poem?
Like an English poem, but more so. Everything is there for a reason, so try to find that reason. Think about all the possible connotations, and be aware of the different possibilities of number and tense. Look for contrasts: within lines, between the lines of each couplet and between successive couplets. Above all, don't worry about what the poet meant- find your meaning.

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