Quiet Night Thoughts

Over the Easter holidays, we have been tasked to enjoy an old Chinese poem. Li Bai’s ‘Quiet Night Thoughts’.

Li Bai ( 701 – 762 ) is a classic Chinese poet whom’s work is taught, even today, at Chinese schools.
It’s an odd character though. The story of his life ( summary in wikipedia ) reads like a road-movie script. Like Easy Rider, without the motorcycles, that is.
And what to think of his poem “Waking From Drunkenness on a Spring Day”:

“Life in the World is but a big dream;
I will not spoil it by any labour or care.”
So saying, I was drunk all the day,
Lying helpless at the porch in front of my door.
When I woke up, I blinked at the garden-lawn;
A lonely bird was singing amid the flowers.
I asked myself, had the day been wet or fine?
The Spring wind was telling the mango-bird.
Moved by its song I soon began to sigh,
And as wine was there I filled my own cup.
Wildly singing I waited for the moon to rise;
When my song was over, all my senses had gone.

Surprising role-model, in whichever Chinese era.

Our assignment is “Quiet Night Thoughts”
You can find the Chinese, pin-yin and English version below. The pin-yin gives you a rough idea how it sounds in Chinese; otherwise listen here.
We’ll have to recite it on April 19th. I intended to add a clip of my own reading, to find out I need to upgrade my account. Will figure that out later.

Professor Thomas Gwinner made a most instructional paper with the best English translation I have come across ( and which I copied below ).
The simplicity of the poem is misleading because all elements of its structure are intentional: 4 lines, 5 words per line, aaba-rhyme, use of verbs and nouns ( which are used interchangeably in Chinese, much to the delight of students ).
I’m not much of a poetry reader, but this has impressed me all the same.

Jing4 Ye4 Si1 ( Li3 Bai2 )
静夜思 ( 李白 )
Quiet Night Thoughts ( Li Bai )

Chuang2 qian2 ming2 yue4 guang1,
In front of my bed the bright moon‘s shine,

Yi2 shi4 di4 shang4 shuang1.
Or do I see on the floor frost‘s sign?

ju3 tou2 wang4 ming2 yue4,
I raise my head, gaze at the bright moon;

di1 tou2 si1 gu4 xiang1.
I bow my head, miss the home of mine.

Furthermore, Li Bai shows up in very unexpected places.
Contemporary jazz saxophonist Steve Coleman’s album ‘Weaving Symbolics’ features a number ‘Li Bai/Astrology II’. Check out the sample here.
Bejing Opera meets free jazz. Unless you’re familiar with either one: consume with caution while driving vehicles or operating heavy machinery.


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