“Drinking Alone Beneath the Moon” was written around the year 743 by Li Po, who is widely considered to be one of the greatest poets in Chinese history. Written nearly thirteen hundred years ago during the T’ang Dynasty, the poetry of Li Po has been as familiar to readers in China and Japan as the poetry of Shakespeare is to Western audiences. During the early twentieth century, the poet Ezra Pound helped introduce Li Po to readers of English with his meticulous and moving translations of many of Li Po’s works.
This poem presents a typical example of Li Po’s poetic stance: cool detachment from the world around him, yet keenly observant of the slightest details. It is an attitude that displays elements of Taoism and Zen Buddhism, which are both traditional spiritual practices of China. Also evident in this poem is Li Po’s legendary love of wine, which was a great creative inspiration to him, as well as to many of the poets of the time. As can be seen in “Drinking Alone Beneath the Moon,” Li Po found freedom from the common world in drinking, similar to the release from self that comes from meditation.
Despite the poet’s widespread influence in his native country, there are few collections of Li Po’s poetry available in the West. “Drinking Alone Beneath the Moon” can currently be found in The Selected Poems of Li Po, translated by David Hinton and published by New Directions Press.