Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

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.)