“How long will the full moon appear?
Wine cup in hand, I ask the sky.
I do not know what time of the year
it would be tonight in the palace on high.”
These two lines are from the poem Prelude to Water Melody written by Song Dynasty poet Su Dongpo (1037-1101).
The lonely poet appreciated the bright moon in the sky and missed his family very much on the night of Mid-Autumn Festival -- a reunion day in Chinese traditional culture.
Mid-Autumn Festival began in the Tang Dynasty (618-907). It falls on the 15th day of the eighth month of the lunar calendar. This year it is on Sept 13.
Since ancient times, customs of the Mid-Autumn Festival have included appreciating the moon, eating moon cakes and drinking osmanthus wine. The full moon on Mid-Autumn night symbolizes family reunion. With the full moon hanging in the sky, people who are far away from home might miss their families while falling under the spell of the moonlight.
Su Dongpo, the author of Prelude to Water Melody, is a famous writer, calligrapher and painter of the Northern Song Dynasty. He wrote this poem after he drank heavily on Mid-Autumn night. Su Shi and his brother had been apart for seven years by the time he wrote the poem, since Su disagreed with other officials and was banished to Mizhou (in today's Shandong province). The author, who was far away from home, illustrates his loneliness and homesickness in the poem.
The line "I do not know what time of the year. It would be tonight in the palace on high" depicts a picture of the author looking at the moon on Mid-Autumn night. The lonely scene is vividly described.
There is another line in the poem: “Men have sorrow and joy; they part or meet again; The moon is bright or dim and she may wax or wane. There has been nothing perfect since the olden days.”
The author compares the various shapes of the moon on different days to the situations that people will have in different periods of their lives. From ancient times to the present, it has been difficult to have an unchanged, perfect existence. It seems the poet was trying to comfort himself that lonely night, and also delivers realism and philosophical thinking.
Finally, let me share with you the last line of the poem, "I only pray our life be long, and our souls together heavenward fly!"
Today is Mid-Autumn Festival. With best regards from Su Dongpo, I hope you all can get together with your families and have a memorable time during Mid-Autumn Festival!
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