念奴娇.中秋 A Blissful Night on the Moon Festival
原作: 苏轼（字子瞻, 号东坡居士; 11世纪北宋）
A Blissful Night on the Moon Festival
-to the tune of Niannujiao
written by Su Shi (11th AC, social name 'Dongpo')
En. trans.+ annot. by Julia Min ( 2023)
This pavilion on the hill enjoys a splendid sight:
The solitary Moon, motionless in a cloudless sky,
Takes the autumn world under her cold light.
Many deities are flying there on phoenix tonight
To gather in her honour at the jade palace high.
She’s at her fullest of the year, a serene delight.
I can almost spot the big laurel tree veiled in haze,
Overlooking the smooth river, the hills alongside.
I start to sing to this tune, clapping at the same time.
And dance a twisted humour to a twisting shadow.
A toast to Goddess Luna! I hold my wine cup high,
For it’s not solo but trio with Her and my shadow!
The tipsy mind feels not the cold wind nor the frost night,
Wondering about the moon: what year up there tonight?
Could I return to heaven riding the wind sans wings?
I’d play my flute to make the crystal world dewy-eyed.
1. on phoenix: Chinese legend has it that the deities travel on phoenix in the Moon world.
2. jade palace: According to Chinese legend, the moon is a crystal world. This has been described in many Chinese stories that there are mansions on the Moon built with jade; Chinese have always believed the calendar in Heaven is different from the one on Earth,
3. laurel tree: again from Chinese legend that there’s a huge bay laurel on the moon; The symbolic meaning associates with purity, glory and success both in the east and the west.
4. the smooth river: refers here the Yangtze River, the 2nd longest river in the world.
5. trio with Her and my shadow: a sentimental scene borrowed from the famous Tang Dynasty poet Li Bai’s verse (李白“举杯邀明月,对影成三人”);
6. what year up there: Chinese have always believed the calendar in Heaven is different from the one on Earth, hence the question. A sense of humour is sensed here implying the big gap between these two worlds.
Only a few years ago in 1076, Su Shi wrote what was considered the best of poems for the Moon Festival – WHEN WAS THE MOON EVER SO BRIGHT ( 水调歌头.明月几时有). It was a moment of loneliness after his wife’s death and the absence of family reunion with his brother Ziyou in the last seven years. Although there was a touch of thought of leaving the hustle and bustle of his official world, away from his social and political attachments, he was led to believe the earthly joy was much cosier than the cold life of Heaven. Back then he was still full of expectations for a happier worldly life.
Whereas now, in this poem, a new chapter is painted with a near-death experience of 3-month imprisonment after a political setup by his opponent followed by an exile life to a remote town Haungzhou. He didn’t know then that this was just the first of three banishments that were meant to marginalize him from the dominant political circle. This year 1082 saw him with his 2nd wife and kids at Huangzhou where they had to farm in the fields to have food on the table, but at least he was with his family on the Moon Festival, a family reunion time of the year. The utterly lonely melancholy obviously came out of his disappointment at the New Law that brought more hazards for the country and he didn’t get a chance to do anything about it. His mind was led by imagery about life in Heaven, not much said about life on Earth compared with his previous poem for the Festival. The connotation is to completely let go of his worldly attachment and fly to an ever-widening world of heaven, the jade palace of the moon, and tell the celestials about his stories on Earth. A strong sense of liberation is stirred here in the last few lines pushing the wave of emotion to the peak and stop right there and then. A very powerful finish leaving the readership with heart beating against chest. Dramatic, romantic and inspiring……
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