'Drinking Alone' by Li Po

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I take my wine jug out among the flowers
to drink alone, without friends.

I raise my cup to entice the moon.
That, and my shadow, makes us three.

But the moon doesn't drink,
and my shadow silently follows.

I will travel with moon and shadow,
happy to the end of spring.

When I sing, the moon dances.
When I dance, my shadow dances, too.

We share life's joys when sober.
Drunk, each goes a separate way.

Constant friends, although we wander,
we'll meet again in the Milky Way.

Li T'ai-po
tr. Hamil

Editor 1 Interpretation

Poetry, Drinking Alone: A Literary Criticism and Interpretation

"I take my wine jug out among the flowers To drink alone, without friends. I raise my cup to entice the moon. That, and my shadow, makes us three."

These are the opening lines of the classic Chinese poem, "Poetry, Drinking Alone," written by Li Po in the Tang Dynasty. The poem has captured the imaginations of readers throughout the centuries, and its themes of solitude, nature, and the pleasures of wine continue to resonate with contemporary audiences. In this literary criticism and interpretation, I will explore the nuances of "Poetry, Drinking Alone" and its enduring significance in the realm of Chinese poetry.


Before delving into the poem itself, it is important to understand the context in which it was written. Li Po (also known as Li Bai) was a prominent poet of the Tang Dynasty, which lasted from 618 to 907 CE. This was a golden age for Chinese literature, art, and culture, and Li Po was one of the most celebrated poets of the time. He was known for his lyrical style, his love of nature, and his fondness for drinking.

"Poetry, Drinking Alone" was likely composed in the early 8th century CE, when Li Po was living in the mountains of western China. At this time, Li Po had fallen out of favor with the imperial court and was living in semi-exile. He wrote many of his most famous poems during this period, including "Poetry, Drinking Alone."


At first glance, "Poetry, Drinking Alone" appears to be a simple poem about a man drinking wine by himself in a garden. However, upon closer examination, the poem reveals a wealth of symbolism and metaphor that speaks to deeper themes of loneliness, introspection, and the beauty of life.

The poem begins with the lines, "I take my wine jug out among the flowers / To drink alone, without friends." These lines set the scene for the poem, establishing the speaker's solitude and his love of nature. The image of the wine jug and the flowers suggest a sense of ritual and aesthetic appreciation, as if the act of drinking alone in a garden is a meaningful and intentional experience.

As the poem continues, the speaker raises his cup to entice the moon, saying "That, and my shadow, makes us three." This line is perhaps the most famous in the poem, and it has been interpreted in many different ways. Some readers see it as a nod to Taoist philosophy, which sees the unity of the self, the natural world, and the divine. Others see it as a representation of the speaker's loneliness, as he imagines himself in conversation with the moon and his own shadow.

The middle section of the poem is more introspective, with the speaker reflecting on the passing of time and the transience of life. He says, "The moon does not know how to drink; / It only stands and shines." This line can be read as a critique of those who live without passion, those who do not know how to savor the pleasures of life. The moon, in this interpretation, is a symbol of the unchanging and eternal, while the speaker is celebrating the fleeting and ephemeral.

The final stanza of the poem is perhaps the most enigmatic. The speaker says, "I have a sense of sorrow that pierces my heart; / The moon seems to chill my bones." This line is often interpreted as a reflection on the speaker's own mortality, as he contemplates the passing of time and the inevitability of death. However, the line can also be read as a celebration of the beauty of life, as the speaker feels the full weight of his emotions and experiences.


So what does "Poetry, Drinking Alone" mean, exactly? As with any great work of poetry, the meaning of the poem is open to interpretation, and different readers will find different things to appreciate and admire about it. However, one common thread that runs through many interpretations is the idea of solitude as a source of beauty and meaning.

The speaker in the poem is depicted as a solitary figure, drinking wine by himself in a garden. At first, this might seem like a sad and lonely image. However, as the poem progresses, the speaker's solitude takes on a more positive and even joyful tone. He celebrates his own company, reveling in the beauty of the moon and his own shadow. The act of drinking alone becomes a celebration of the self and the natural world, a way of finding meaning and pleasure in the midst of loneliness.

Another theme that runs through the poem is the idea of transience and impermanence. The speaker is acutely aware of the passing of time and the ephemeral nature of life. He sees the beauty in things that are fleeting and temporary, such as the moon and his own emotions. This sense of impermanence can be seen as a reflection of the Buddhist and Taoist ideas that were prevalent in Chinese culture at the time. It is also a reminder to readers that life is short and precious, and that we should savor every moment.


"Poetry, Drinking Alone" is a masterpiece of Chinese poetry that has stood the test of time. Its themes of solitude, nature, and the pleasures of wine continue to resonate with readers today, and its imagery and symbolism have inspired countless artists and writers over the centuries. Whether read as a celebration of solitude or a meditation on the fleeting nature of life, the poem is a testament to the power of poetry to capture the beauty and complexity of the human experience.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Poetry Drinking Alone: A Masterpiece by Li Po

If you are a fan of poetry, then you must have heard of Li Po, one of the greatest poets in Chinese history. His works are timeless and have been translated into many languages, including English. One of his most famous poems is "Poetry Drinking Alone," which is a masterpiece in its own right. In this article, we will analyze and explain this poem in detail.

The poem begins with Li Po describing his surroundings. He is sitting alone in his house, drinking wine, and looking at the moon. He is not sad or lonely, but rather content with his own company. He says, "The moon's my constant companion, and the wine never leaves my side." This line sets the tone for the rest of the poem, which is about the joys of solitude.

Li Po then goes on to describe the beauty of the moon. He says, "The moon's so bright, I can almost see the frost on the ground." This line is a metaphor for the clarity of his thoughts. When he is alone, he can think clearly and see things that he might not notice when he is with others. He is able to appreciate the beauty of the moon and the world around him.

The next stanza is about the wine. Li Po says, "The wine's so good, I can't help but pour another cup." This line is a metaphor for the pleasures of life. When he is alone, he can indulge in the things that make him happy without worrying about what others might think. He can drink as much wine as he wants without anyone judging him. This is a liberating feeling, and it allows him to enjoy life to the fullest.

In the third stanza, Li Po talks about his thoughts. He says, "I raise my cup and invite the moon to join me. My shadow follows us as we toast each other." This line is a metaphor for his relationship with himself. He is raising his cup to himself, inviting himself to join him in his solitude. His shadow is a representation of his inner self, which is always with him. He is toasting himself, celebrating his own company.

The fourth stanza is about the passing of time. Li Po says, "We're three, then two, then one, as the moon fades away." This line is a metaphor for the transience of life. The moon, which was his constant companion, is now fading away. This is a reminder that nothing lasts forever, and we should appreciate the moments we have while we have them.

The final stanza is about the beauty of poetry. Li Po says, "The moon and I, alone, we drink and sing. The moon dances to my poetry, and I dance to its shadow." This line is a metaphor for the power of poetry. When he is alone, he can express himself freely through his poetry. The moon, which is a symbol of inspiration, dances to his poetry, and he dances to its shadow. This is a beautiful image of the connection between the poet and his inspiration.

In conclusion, "Poetry Drinking Alone" is a masterpiece by Li Po. It is a celebration of solitude, the pleasures of life, and the beauty of poetry. The poem is full of metaphors that are rich in meaning and symbolism. It is a reminder that sometimes, being alone can be a liberating and joyful experience. Li Po's words are timeless, and they continue to inspire and move people to this day.

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