Written by Ping Zhang
The Mid-autumn festival falls on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar and is one of the most important Chinese traditional festivals. This year’s Mid-Autumn Festival falls on September 21 of the solar calendar.
The Mid-autumn festival originated in the early Tang Dynasty and numerous poems have been written by an increasing number of intellectuals since that. Among those poetic masterpieces, “Thoughts in the Silent Night” and “A Prelude to Water Melody” have been recognised as the most important and popular ones which express Chinese people’s love for the ethereal moon and their homesickness on the Mid-Autumn Festival.
Thoughts in the Silent Night 静夜思jìng yè sī Written by Li Bai (李白)
床 前 明 月 光 Chuáng qián míng yuè guāng
疑 是 地 上 霜 Yí shì dì shàng shuāng
举 头 望 明 月Jǔ tóu wàng míng yuè
低 头 思 故 乡Dī tóu sī gù xiāng
Moonlight shining through the window
Makes me wonder if there is frost on the ground
Looking up to see the moon
Looking down I miss my hometown
A Prelude to Water Melody 水调歌头shuǐ diào gē tóu Written by Su Shi
明月几时有 Míng yuè jǐ shí yǒu
把酒问青天 Bǎ jiǔ wèn qīng tiān
不知天上宫阙 Bù zhī tiān shàng gōng què
今夕是何年Jīn xī shì hé nián
我欲乘风归去Wǒ yù chéng fēng guī qù
又恐琼楼玉宇Yòu kǒng qióng lóu yù yǔ
高处不胜寒 Gāo chù bù shèng hán
起舞弄清影 Qǐ wǔ nòng qīng yǐng
何似在人间Hé sì zài rén jiān
转朱阁 Zhuǎn zhū gé
低绮户 Dī qǐ hù
照无眠 Zhào wú mián
不应有恨 Bù yìng yǒu hèn
何事长向别时圆 Hé shì cháng xiàng bié shí yuán
人有悲欢离合Rén yǒu bēi huān lí hé
月有阴晴圆缺Yuè yǒu yīn qíng yuán quē
此事古难全Cǐ shì gǔ nán quán
但愿人长久Dàn yuàn rén cháng jiǔ
千里共婵娟Qiān lǐ gòng chán juān
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.
Riding the wind, there I would fly,
Yet I’m afraid the crystalline palace would be
Too high and cold for me.
I rise and dance, with my shadow I play.
On high as on earth, would it be as gay?
The moon goes round the mansions red
Through gauze-draped window soft to shed
Her light upon the sleepless bed.
Why then when people part, is the oft full and bright?
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.
So let us wish that man
Will live long as he can!
Though miles apart, we’ll share the beauty she displays.
(The above was translated by XU Yuanchong who was the only expert to ever translate Chinese poetry into both English and French. He was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1999.)
These poems not only reflect the magnificent charm of traditional Chinese literature but have also been used by many modern composers as lyrics. Songs based on these poems are well received by audiences and have been performed on TV shows on the night of Mid-Autumn Festival.