Mastering Chinese Poetry Ep. 14: Looking at the moon and longing for one far away
Chen Haoxuan, Zhu Danni, Wang Yan
The Mid-Autumn Festival falls on the 15th day of the eighth month on Chinese lunar calendar when the moon is at its fullest and brightest at night. This is a traditional Chinese holiday that celebrates the full moon, a good harvest and family unity. Not only in China but people across East Asia celebrate the festival with families gathering for dinner, lighting lanterns and eating mooncakes. In 2020, the festival coincides with National Day of the People's Republic of China on October 1.
In ancient times, people were easily separated by distance, and a holiday that celebrated unity inevitably stirred up people's longing for their loved ones. Today, CGTN shares the same yearning as depicted by Tang-dynasty poet Zhang Jiuling in the Episode 14 of Mastering Chinese Poetry: Looking at the moon and longing for one far away in the old city of Hotan, in China's northwestern Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.
This poem describes one being far away from home longing for reunion at a full-moon night and the sleeplessness and restlessness that such longing entails. In the first two lines:
hǎi shàng shēng míng yuè
Over the sea grows the moon bright;
tiān yá gòng cǐ shí
We gaze on it far, far apart.
The poet depicts a picture of unity by showing us the moon, a shining wheel, rising slowly above the ocean, and its light bathing everyone on this planet. China has the tradition to compare the changing shapes of the moon to the ebb and flow of relationships. Hence, the wheel of a full-moon symbolizes perfection and unity.
qíng rén yuàn yáo yè
Lovers complain of long, long night;
jìng xī qǐ xiāng sī
They rise and long for the clear heart.
miè zhú lián guāng mǎn
Candles blown out, fuller is light;
pī yī jué lù zī
My coat put on, I'm moist with dew.
But such a perfect night meant for reunion makes one lament his separation from loved ones. He thinks of his loved ones, and finds it hard to fall asleep. The lover extinguishes the candle, and immediately the moonlight illuminates the whole room. Then he walks out with his coat on but is moisturized by the cold dew. So the poet sings "不堪盈手赠，还寝梦佳期". As one can't send his heart filled with longing and the handful of moonlight to his loved ones on his mind, he thinks he might as well go to sleep and meet his loved ones in dreams.
Although this poem is about the plaint of separated love birds, we hope you enjoy the flow of emotions behind the lines. Please remember to call your loved ones to send away thoughts and love while the moon is in its full glory tonight.