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Drinking Alone Beneath the Moon 1

Li, Bai 2 (701-762 CE)
Carrying a bottle of wine among the flowers
I have no friends to keep me company 3,
So I raise my wine cup to invite the moon to join me.
Facing my shadow, we form a party of three.
The moon cannot appreciate the joy of drinking.
My shadow follows my body blindly 4.
For the moment, I regard them as my company.
How can I pass up the opportunity to enjoy this spring evening?
While I am singing, the moon seems enchanted and reluctant to part with me.
While I am dancing, my shadow distorts itself to keep up with me.
While I am sober, we have a good time together.
After I become intoxicated, we separate onto different paths.
We are forever joined in a spiritual 5 excursion
And expect to meet at the distant river in heaven.


1 This poem says that it is difficult to find a friend keenly appreciative of one痴 talent.

2 Tai-bai and Qing-lian-ju-shi ("qing-lian" means "young lotus"; "ju-shi" means "the Buddhist laity") were Bai Li's other first names. His ancestral home was at Cheng-ji City (located northwest of present day Qin-an City in Gansu Province). At the end of the Sui dynasty, his ancestors fled to Sui-ye City (near present day Tokmok, Kyrgyzstan) to avoid civil wars. Bai Li was born there. In 705 CE, he moved with his family to Qing-lian Village in Chang-long City (present day Jiang-you City of Sichuan Province) of Mian-zhou County. When he was twenty, he left the State of Shu (present day Sichuan Province) and roamed all over China. In the beginning of the Tian-bao Period, he was appointed a member of the Royal Academy. Later, he was pushed aside and banished from the capital by influential officials. While Lu-shan An and Si-ming Shi led a rebellion, he served Lin (the splendor of jade) Li, the King of the State of Yong. Bai Li was implicated for this experience and banished to the Kingdom of Ye-lang due to the internal conflicts of the royal family. On the way to his exile, he was pardoned and allowed to return to the east. His poems are full of passion, grandeur, and heroic spirit. They are elegant and refined. The colors of his images are bright. His rhetoric flows and turns naturally. His poetic meter is harmonious, is rich in variety, and is imbued with a strong flavor of romanticism. Bai Li is honored as the God of Chinese Poetry.

3 Bai Li had no congenial friends in the emperor's court because all the officials there were corrupt.

4 This line and the previous one describe how lonely the poet was.

5 Here "spiritual" refers to a transcendence of emotion that strengthens friendship.