Drinking Alone Beneath the Moon


Among the blossoms, a single jar of wine.
No one else here, I ladle it out myself.

Raising my cup, I toast the bright moon,
and facing my shadow makes friends three,

though moon has never understood wine, 
and shadow only trails along behind me.

Kindred a moment with moon and shadow,
I’ve found a joy that must infuse spring:

I sing, and moon rocks back and forth;
I dance, and shadow tumbles into pieces. 

Sober, we’re together and happy. Drunk,
we scatter away into our own directions:

intimates forever, we’ll wander carefree
and meet again in Star River distances.


Surely, if heaven didn’t love wine, 
there would be no Wine Star in heaven,

and if earth didn’t love wine, surely
there would be no Wine Spring on earth.

Heaven and earth have always loved wine,
so how could loving wine shame heaven? 

I hear clear wine called enlightenment,
and they say murky wine is like wisdom:

once you drink enlightenment and wisdom,
why go searching for gods and immortals?

Three cups and I’ve plumbed the great Way, 
a jarful and I’ve merged with occurrence

appearing of itself. Wine’s view is lived:
you can’t preach doctrine to the sober.


It’s April in Ch’ang-an, these thousand
blossoms making a brocade of daylight. 

Who can bear spring’s lonely sorrows, who
face it without wine? It’s the only way.

Success or failure, life long or short:
our fate’s given by Changemaker at birth.

But a single cup evens out life and death, 
our ten thousand concerns unfathomed,

and once I’m drunk, all heaven and earth
vanish, leaving me suddenly alone in bed,

forgetting that person I am even exists.
Of all our joys, this must be the deepest. 


  1. 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.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  2. 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.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  3. While this section begins with the positive associations of April and color, the speaker makes a significant shift in the tone of the poem by associating spring with something negative. He portrays it as a lonely, sorrowful time and suggests that the only way to deal with this loneliness is to drink wine.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  4. A “brocade” is a kind of textile fabric woven with a pattern of raised figures. Originally, these figures were done in gold or silver, but later on, flower patterns took form, creating an intricate, interwoven display of color. Li Po’s speaker uses this word to emphasize the magnificent pattern of color that the new blossoms cast on Ch’ang-an in the spring.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  5. An ancient capital of over ten ruling dynasties in Chinese history, the city of Ch’ang-an, now known as Xi’an, has figured prominently in culture and history for generations. Li Po moved to the city in the year 742 at the request of the emperor and wrote many of his well-known works there. However, his stay was short lived, and he was banished only two years later. Unfortunately, there does not appear to be a record of the reason for his banishment.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  6. 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.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  7. 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.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  8. 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.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  9. As opposed to the clear wine, “murky wine” likely refers to red wine. While white wines are clear, red wines are “murky” in the sense that you cannot see through them. Red wines also tend to have stronger fragrances and tastes, creating a more complex drinking experience. For these reasons, we can see why the speaker associates red wine with wisdom. Wisdom is, among other things, the ability to reason with information, to seek answers to complicated issues.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  10. Clear wine refers to white wines. They are “clear” in the sense that the liquid is translucent. Since the speaker associates this type of wine with enlightenment, the use of “clear” here has extra weight. Enlightenment is also referred to as a kind of mental clarity, of seeing things more easily and clearly. This is likely why he draws the connection between the two.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  11. 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.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  12. 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.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  13. 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.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  14. 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.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  15. While the movement in this couplet could be read as the moon and shadow participating in the speaker’s singing and dancing, the rocking motion and the tumbling indicate that the poet is likely becoming more intoxicated from the wine as poem continues.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  16. 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.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  17. The noun “kindred” literally means that people have a relationship by blood, descent, or marriage. However, it can be used more broadly to emphasize a kind of spiritual relationship or closeness between two souls. Here, the speaker finds that moment of connection with the moon and his shadow, and in so doing, he finds joy.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  18. 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.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  19. While the poet drinks alone, he declares that the moon and his shadow are his “friends” to give himself company. That there are “three” of them is fortunate: many cultures and faiths consider “three” to be harmonious, holy, or lucky. Li Po’s speaker then has joined three elements—a human, a celestial body, and an insubstantial, almost supernatural figure—together for this drinking ritual.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  20. Li Po and many of the other T’ang Dynasty poets associated the moon with special significance and looked to it as a source for poetic inspiration, believing the Earth to be masculine and the Moon its feminine counterpart. This perception is in line with Taoist philosophy, which views everything in complementary pairs: Moon has connotations of female, femininity, in balance with Earth as male, masculine. Li Po’s speaker uses this Taoist imagery to create a connection between this philosophy and his action of drinking.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  21. Many cultures around the world have similar rituals that involve a “toast” when drinking. Generally, this verb means to to drink in honor of a person or thing. The speaker toasts the moon, which is described here as a character itself.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  22. 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.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  23. 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.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  24. This work is a translation, and so much of the word analysis that can be done in this poem will focus on translator David Hinton’s choices. Here, he uses “blossoms,” a word for the flowers that grow on plants. In English, this word is often associated with spring flowers, and therefore contains a direct link to spring-time connotations of renewal, rebirth, and new beginnings. These are all positive associations, and so we are encouraged to connect wine to these positive connotations.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor