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Themes in Drinking Alone Beneath the Moon

Themes Examples in Drinking Alone Beneath the Moon:

Drinking Alone Beneath the Moon

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"Of all our joys, this must be the deepest.  ..."   (Drinking Alone Beneath the Moon)

While many Western philosophies and religions focus on forming a more complete understanding of one’s self, many Eastern traditions, such as Buddhism or Taoism, focus on transcendence or the forgetting of the self. Li Po’s speaker says that momentarily forgetting that he exists is the deepest joy there is, which conforms to the desire to transcend one’s self. However, unlike meditation, Li Po’s speaker emphasizes that this spiritual achievement can be accomplished through drinking wine and celebrating it as a means of reaching enlightenment.

"Changemaker..."   (Drinking Alone Beneath the Moon)

Based on context, the word “Changemaker” likely refers to an all-powerful force, such as Fate or God. Similar to other faiths, this line describes the notion that one’s destiny and future is predetermined at birth. While such a claim takes away much agency from the individual, Li Po’s speaker does convey important information: there are many factors that are beyond our control in determining the type of life we will have.

"Wine’s view is lived:..."   (Drinking Alone Beneath the Moon)

Since the speaker has equated wine with spiritual awareness, he refines his claim with a metaphorical statement: “Wine’s view is lived: you can’t preach doctrine to the sober.” He is effectively saying that one must drink to reach enlightenment, but on a broader, metaphorical sense, we can interpret this in another way: in order to understand spiritual lessons, one has to experience life for themselves.

"why go searching for gods and immortals?..."   (Drinking Alone Beneath the Moon)

Having described the spiritual benefits of wine, the speaker asks this rhetorical question. He is not expecting an answer; he has said wine provides spiritual guidance, and so there is no need to go searching. Such a question is presented as a reaction against organized religion, where Li Po’s speaker suggests that one does not need to worship religious idols or gods, but rather merely drink wine to discover spirituality.

"once you drink enlightenment and wisdom..."   (Drinking Alone Beneath the Moon)

Li Po’s speaker claims that both clear and murky wines provide spiritual qualities for the drinker, much like a form of meditation. The balance that the speaker portrays between the two brings up another Taoist dichotomy: these two concepts, enlightenment and wisdom, help to describe complementary aspects of human experience. By connecting wine to Taoism, the speaker provides further evidence for his claim that drinking wine can provide benefits and should not be condemned.

"so how could loving wine shame heaven? ..."   (Drinking Alone Beneath the Moon)

In the second section, Li Po’s speaker makes a logical claim for why wine has value and purpose. Since many cultures and faiths have condemned drinking alcoholic beverages, this claim serves as a reaction against such condemnation. Wine is of the earth and the heavens; therefore, a love for wine is only natural.

"Surely, if heaven didn’t love wine..."   (Drinking Alone Beneath the Moon)

Having earlier personified the moon and his shadow, Li Po’s speaker also personifies the heaven and the earth in these two couplets. By giving these non-human entities the capacity to love, he allows them to have a more active voice, which he uses to convey his argument that wine is a natural substance that should be embraced.

"in Star River distances..."   (Drinking Alone Beneath the Moon)

While “Star River distances” could suggest a place beyond life, other translations have simply used the term “the Milky Way”—the irregular, faintly luminous band that circles the night sky. Regardless of the translation, the speaker appears to convey the idea that even though he and his friends wander, they are connected to one another forever in a place that transcends the earth.

"we’ll wander carefree..."   (Drinking Alone Beneath the Moon)

Li Po’s speaker appears to contrast sober and drunk states, and many readings could suggest that the speaker is happy when he’s sober and in the company of his friends and unhappy when he’s not. However, the use of “wander carefree” suggests that the speaker and his friends “scatter away” of their own accord, or without any cause for worry. In this second reading, drunkenness is figured as positively as sobriety.

"I’ve found a joy that must infuse spring:..."   (Drinking Alone Beneath the Moon)

Again, we’re working with Hinton’s translation, but the grammar of this sentence provides a nuanced reading. That joy “must infuse spring” suggests that spring is always filled with joy. But it also might suggest that the speaker believes that what makes spring joyful is the kindred harmony he shares with the natural world.

"and shadow only trails along behind me...."   (Drinking Alone Beneath the Moon)

While the speaker considers the moon and shadow friends, he does state that they can’t appreciate wine and drinking as much as the speaker does. This suggests that wine offers humans something that the moon cannot understand or does not need and that the shadow is only capable of miming his actions. As we’ll shortly see, the speaker claims that wine has the power to give humans spiritual harmony and balance, which the moon would not need since it’s in perfect balance with the earth.

"of wine..."   (Drinking Alone Beneath the Moon)

Additionally, the jar of wine’s appearance in this first line is somewhat sudden. Since the speaker has encouraged us to have positive associations with the wine and nature, then the jar of wine becomes something like a “gift” from nature.

"a single jar..."   (Drinking Alone Beneath the Moon)

Since the verb is omitted in this first line, several nuanced readings are permitted: the speaker finds wine among the flowers, the speaker sits among the flowers with wine, or flowers surround this single jar of wine, etc. However, we can apply English grammatical rules to Hinton’s translation, which suggests a reading in this vein: “A single jar of wine is among the blossoms.” Regardless of the reading, the speaker conveys an idea that wine and nature have a pleasant association.

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