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Today is the last day of the Mid-Autumn festival of year 4707, the year of the metal tiger.  Happy mooncakes to you and your family! Go out and stroll beneath the paper lanterns tonight and enjoy a festival over 3000 years old which was introduced by moon worshippers of the Shang dynasty. Look up at the moon glowing in the autumn sky and ponder the sad strange fate of Chang’e and her rabbit.

A little boy looks at a Chang'e Lantern

I can never hope to live up the to the moon’s devotees from ancient dynastic China, but I do wish to celebrate lunar beauty and meaning. Therefore I have selected the following poem from a Tang Dynasty Literary Master. Be forewarned though, Chinese literature is always heartbreakingly sad.

 

On the Festival of the Moon to Sub-official Zhang

Han Yu

The fine clouds have opened and the River of Stars is gone,
A clear wind blows across the sky, and the moon widens its wave,
The sand is smooth, the water still, no sound and no shadow,
As I offer you a cup of wine, asking you to sing.
But so sad is this song of yours and so bitter your voice
That before I finish listening my tears have become a rain:
“Where Lake Dongting is joined to the sky by the lofty Nine-Doubt Mountain,
Dragons, crocodiles, rise and sink, apes, flying foxes, whimper….
At a ten to one risk of death, I have reached my official post,
Where lonely I live and hushed, as though I were in hiding.
I leave my bed, afraid of snakes; I eat, fearing poisons;
The air of the lake is putrid, breathing its evil odours….
Yesterday, by the district office, the great drum was announcing
The crowning of an emperor, a change in the realm.
The edict granting pardons runs three hundred miles a day,
All those who were to die have had their sentences commuted,
The unseated are promoted and exiles are recalled,
Corruptions are abolished, clean officers appointed.
My superior sent my name in but the governor would not listen
And has only transferred me to this barbaric place.
My rank is very low and useless to refer to;
They might punish me with lashes in the dust of the street.
Most of my fellow exiles are now returning home –
A journey which, to me, is a heaven beyond climbing.”
…Stop your song, I beg you, and listen to mine,
A song that is utterly different from yours:
“Tonight is the loveliest moon of the year.
All else is with fate, not ours to control;
But, refusing this wine, may we choose more tomorrow?”

This translation of Han Yu’s poem is by Brynner. The full Chinese version is available here.  Han Yu was the foremost man of letters of the Tang Dynasty. The Indiana Companion asserts that in the Chinese cannon he is “comparable in stature to Dante, Shakespeare or Goethe”.

Han Yu

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