“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.)