Late Night (after Li Po)

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The moon smiles upon my bed.
I consider frost and ice,
and raising my head, the bright sky.
Lying back, I think of home.

Once again, I’ve attempted to shiver myself into a timeless piece. I can only hope that my version does not offend.

The literal translation from Chinese-Poetry.com follows:

Bed before bright moon shine
Think be ground on frost
Raise head view bright moon
Lower head think home

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31 thoughts on “Late Night (after Li Po)

  1. First off, I really like your “after Tu Fu” version, whether you want to call it a translation or not. I particularly like your use of the word “consider” for the speaker’s state of mind, which is contemplative, after all, if not a little sleepy (and cold) to boot. To consider frost and light and the sky with its moon is, after all, to dismiss none of them, and that is key in my reading of that poem.

    Even transliterations of the characters may vary, depending on where you get it from! In J.P. Seaton’s transliteration in a commentary on his own translation methods, his transliteration of the verb in the second line is “suspect” and not “think”, which can make a difference in how one translates it–though in your case I think you chose a strong word even with a different transliteration. The more you study, the murkier it can get…

    Here’s a link to my own translation of this poem, paired with one by Li Ho, below.
    http://jeffschwaner.com/2014/02/04/two-poems-about-the-moon-one-mentioning-the-moon-six-times-and-the-other-not-mentioning-the-moon-at-all-new-translations/

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    • Our alphabet lacks the subtleties of Chinese character combinations, but we try! I recently picked up my old copy of 19 Ways of Looking at Wang Wei, and was struck, once again, at how many variations might be derived from these old, wonderful poems. And I very much enjoyed your translation – much different, but the same nevertheless.

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  2. This is beautiful. I haven’t read Li Po in ages, but your version definitely makes me want to revisit his work. I enjoyed the quietness of the actions in the poem, as well as how the simple actions became solid, universal images in each line until the terminus, where I could supply my own personal vision of home. As you said, an evergreen piece–and I feel you’ve done well with it.

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  3. I don’t read Chinese, but the literal translation spoke to me like this:

    Light startles me awake – at first,
    I think I sleep again amid the frost.
    Then from the bed I raise my head
    And see the moon – relax! I’m safe at home.

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  4. Pingback: A Quiet Night | Christine Plouvier, Novelist

  5. Pingback: A Quiet Night: December, 1916. | The Passions of Patriots: A Novel ~ Christine Plouvier, Indie Author

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