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  • Gordon Osing and Julia Min

水调歌头·明月几时有 When was the moon ever so bright?
























When was the moon ever so bright?

- to the tune of Shuidiaogetou

(I wrote this for the Moon Festival as well as for my brother Ziyou

in 1076 after drinking through the night.)

written by: Su Shi ( Song Dynasty )

translated by: Gordon Osing & Julia Min

When was the moon ever so bright?

With a cup in hand filled with wine,

I ask the vast, black blue Empyrean.

What year is it in Heaven tonight?

And could I be taken there on the wind!

But I fear it must be icy cold being so high

in the riches of the moon's jade mansions.

To my lonely shadow in the world of humans

instead, I'll dance a satire with wine,

for some earthly joy in the moonlight.

The full moon, shifting from the red pavilion,

threads through the crafted windows,

keeping me awake and I can’t complain.

Such is life as always, my dear Brother!

The spell is ancient beyond men seeking perfection.

The moon is fuller n brighter in one’s desolation.

What else but joys and sorrows, partings and reunions,

like the moon - clouded or brilliant, empty or brimming.

Now and always, peace to our hearts, we may

share the same far-away Goddess in the One Heaven.

Picture retrieved from Google



This is a masterpiece written by Su Shi in Mizhou in 1076, a time of adversity for our poet as he held different views on the New Laws (proposed by Wang Anshi) which was approved and enacted. Feeling himself out of the Emperor’s favour, he asked to be sent away from the Royal Court to the post of Mizhou’s Mayor. His wife had left him and he hadn't seen his brother in six years. Here his inclination is to wish himself into the legendary jade palace of the Goddess on the moon, of romantic art and beauty, and above all, a life of seclusion from the chaos of the society, but he is led to fear the cold perfections of her empire. Afterall, Su Shi is more a man of the world than a Daoist of fairy lands. And to the readership, the bravest sight of all is to see a great man struggling against adversity where great works could be born.


1. “bing chen”: the year 1076.

2. Legend has it that there is a palace called Guang Han on the moon.

3. It is believed by the Chinese that three days in Heaven are equal to three years on earth, so the dates on Heaven and Earth differ.

4. “Chanjuan”refers to the goddess Chang E, who is said to inhabit the moon palace.

Pinying and Word -For-Word Translation:

shuǐ diào gē tóu - to the tune of Shuidiaogetou

(bǐng chén zhōng qiū ,huān yǐn dá dàn ,dà zuì ,zuò cǐ piān 。jiān huái zǐ yóu ) - Bingchen year Mid-Autumn Festival, enjoy drinking to the next morning; heavily drunk, compose this ci, also miss Ziyou;

míng yuè jǐ shí yǒu - bright moon when have;

bǎ jiǔ wèn qīng tiān - hold cup of wine ask dark blue sky;

bú zhī tiān shàng gōng què - not know in Heaven Palace;

jīn xī shì hé nián - this evening is what year;

wǒ yù chéng fēng guī qù – I wish to fly on wind to return;

yòu kǒng qióng lóu yù yǔ - but afraid jade towers jade mansions;

gāo chù bú shèng hán - high place not bear the cold;

qǐ wǔ nòng qīng yǐng - start dancing , make fun with my shadows;

hé sì zài rén jiān - what like in human world;

zhuǎn zhū gé - the moon turns around red pavilion;

dī qǐ hù - lowers light into the crafted doors and windows;

zhào wú mián – so much light, no sleep;

bú yīng yǒu hèn – should not have hatred;

hé shì zhǎng xiàng bié shí yuan – why is it often full and bright when we are parted;

rén yǒu bēi huān lí hé – humans have sorrows joys departures reunions;

yuè yǒu yīn qíng yuán quē – the moon is cloudy clear wax or wane;

cǐ shì gǔ nán quán – such is difficult for perfection since ancient time;

dàn yuàn rén zhǎng jiǔ – only wish we have each other for a long time;

qiān lǐ gòng chán juān -thousand li share Chanjuan;



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