Behind the scenes to the most recent feature I wrote.
One of the things that makes me feel grounded and connected to all parts of my identity (and just generally feel human ) is gazing at the moon. It’s something that’s simple and universal, but has special significance to me because it’s referenced so frequently in Chinese poetry, including the Tang poet Li Bai’s famed work “Quiet Night Thinking.” This week I wrote about it in relation to my quest to see the Super Moon.
I hadn’t done written translations since college, and started to consider it again this summer when my English vocabulary fell short in trying to describe my affection for my childhood best friend in a speech. It worked out so well I decided to try it again.
Poems speak across millennia. Even though “Quiet Night Thinking” is more than 1,000 years old I can think of no better way to capture a very particular mood I experience from time to time. As my professor Paula Varsano once elegantly taught they have the power to express the ineffable.
Within four short lines, Li Bai packs in a sense of universal time and place, but also a very personal emotion, a tremendous sense of longing and nostalgia.
It achieves this through very basic images: moonlight, a bed. By not specifying a subject, it almost places the reader directly in the experience, as though living it first hand. Certain things are trickier to translate. A character might mean “concept,” “idea,” “thinking,” “pondering,” “thoughts,” all the above or more than that. Picking one translation over the other doesn’t quite capture it’s depth, but it’s fun to linger and imagine all the different possibilities.
Here it is.