Family reunion is an important theme in Chinese poetry, and many poems are based upon the “reunion topos [topic].” In a poem employing this topos, the full moon—especially that of the Mid-Autumn Festival, when the moon is roundest and brightest—takes on symbolic meanings because it reminds the poet of his or a family member’s separation from the home. “Moonlit Night” certainly belongs to the genre of poetry built around the “reunion topos.”
What sets “Moonlit Night” apart from other poems dealing with separation and reunion, however, is its ingenious treatment of the object of longing. Traditionally, it is usually a man who yearns for a reunion with a friend or a brother. Du Fu has, in fact, written another “Moonlit Night” poem about his brother using the reunion topos. The yearning for one’s wife in this poem subtly adds to the general theme of separation and reunion the somewhat more novel theme of love. In addition, as far as the tradition of Chinese love poetry is concerned, it is usually the wife who yearns for the return of the traveling husband, whereas here it is the husband who yearns to return to his wife, who he believes is also yearning at the same time for his return. In its layering of yearning upon yearning, “Moonlit Night” may be described as a love poem in which the relationship between subject and object is obscured. The ending of the poem, which must have shocked its...
(The entire section is 534 words.)
“Moonlit Night” is one of Du Fu’s most frequently translated short lyrics. Because love poems are relatively rare in Chinese poetry, “Moonlit Night” is a rather precious gem.
As the poem opens, the poet imagines that his wife must be by herself in her boudoir, gazing at the moon in Fu-chou (Fuxian county, Shaanxi province). He feels sorrowful because his children, so small and so far away from him, will not understand why they should remember Ch’ang-an (Xi’an, Shaanxi province). At this point, half of the poem is already over, and it seems that nothing extraordinary has been said. Suddenly, however, what could very well be a prosaic poetic idea gathers momentum and becomes vitalized when the focus shifts back to the wife in the next two lines, here translated literally:
[In the] fragrant mist, [her] cloud-hair [gets] wet;[In the] limpid light, [her] jade-arm [gets] cold.
In this couplet, the poet invokes the presence of the absent wife with complex sensory experiences, suggesting that the wife, losing sleep over the absent husband, must be pondering deep in the night. Unexpectedly, this suggestion turns around the relationship between the subject and object of the longing, making the separation between the couple unbearably poignant. In the conclusion, the poet wonders when he and his wife will be together again, so that, leaning...
(The entire section is 501 words.)