Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Making love to the sky

Legend has it that the great Chinese poet Li Bai drowned one night while drinking wine and trying to embrace the moon's reflection in the river.

I love this poem of his -- and was amazed this morning to find a site with 42 translations of it. I like this simple, elegant, non-rhyming version best.

tr. Dongbo

Solitary Moonlight Drunk

One jug of wine
a thicket of flowers,
A solitary drunk
no friends around.
I raise my cup
urge Moon to drink,
But Moon has no stomach for wine!
Shadow stalks my tettering form,
Moon and Shadow
my transient chums,
The three of us
giddy as springtime,
I sing out!
Moon stops dead,
I jitterbug!
Shadow boogies drunkenly.
Sober we’re bosom friends,
Pickled we scatter.
I yearn to trek to the frigid beyond,
And together plunge into Star River.


I knew a mermaid who fell into the sky trying to touch a moonbeam. She thought she might die as the world tipped upside down, but her fins became wings and she flew into the stars, chasing the teasing moon as it slipped in and out of the clouds, rising ever so slowly above the sea. Whatever became of her, I have no idea, but I think I saw her looking up at me in a tidepool, so she must have lured that big teasing moon back into the water. Come with me into the sea....come with me.


The Full Buck Moon was a terrible tease last night. It was almost impossible to photograph, the sky was filled with dark clouds, but I got a couple of dim shots. I knew my buck was out there somewhere at the midnight hour, in a field, under the big midwestern sky, fireflies glowing above his head, hot steel in his hand, just as he promised. I raced to the top of my hill, pulling the old moon-colored dog along behind me, wanting to be there too, wanting to make love to the sky while the moon watched. That naughty goddess was nowhere to be found. The slobber-jowled hound and I made a big circle around the neighborhood and across a field towards a church and a big bed & breakfast built to look like a miniature White House on the far side of the hill. Finally, as we passed through a park, the teasing moon emerged from the clouds and laughed at me, just a peek, then disappeared again. We waited and waited.

As the moon rose, the clouds followed. Finally, finally, she peeked her face out and stuck out her tongue. I couldn't wait any longer. I reached inside and touched his skin, felt his hot rain on my face, and became reconnected again with everything that has ever mattered. That place in the grass where I sat, criss-cross applesauce, nipples aching beneath thin cotton in the cool, damp wind, was still wet this morning, the grass shimmering with moondrops.


Craig Sorensen said...

Damn! I think Li Bai would love to share a drink of wine with you, Gina.

I think he'd believe you had been plucked down from the sky, just a bit of that lovely moon right here on earth.

The translation you chose was a fun one; a lot of the translator in it. A very vibrant take on the original.

Gina Marie said...

Hi Craig,

How cool would that be -- to meet one of those ancient poets! I'm afraid we'd probably both fall in chasing the moon :)

I like the words the translator chose -- which is odd to choose a translation -- "fun words" over accuracy, but I loved "chums" and "pickled" and "yearn to trek," "Tettering form," and "Jitterbug."

Craig Sorensen said...

Choosing the "fun" words is not odd at all. The first collection that turned me on to T'ang poetry was by a poet in league with a translator, and they took liberties. Those liberties pulled me in.

Yes, I like to read Burton Watson for the more pure nature of his translations, but the sparseness of these poems can read kind of stiff. A lively translation "updates" the ideas.

I somehow think Li Bai would approve of his work being made for the modern mind to savor.

Verification word: fratalum

A former student who went Greek in his campus days.

Jeremy Edwards said...

Once again, you leave me speechless with delight!

Gina Marie said...

Hi again Craig, I like how you explain that pull towards certain translations. A lot of them seemed to lack the combination of zen and delight and even a bit of mischief that I crave when I read Chinese poetry. Lively is the perfect word to describe it.

Jeremy! You speechless? Hard to believe, but thank you, thank you.

Emerald said...

This was just mesmerising, Gina.

Thank you.