'Under the Moon' by Li Po

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Under the crescent moon's faint glow
The washerman's bat resounds afar,
And the autumn breeze sighs tenderly.
But my heart has gone to the Tartar war,
To bleak Kansuh and the steppes of snow,
Calling my husband back to me.

Editor 1 Interpretation

Literary Criticism and Interpretation of "Under the Moon" by Li Po

Are you ready to embark on a journey through the mystical world of Li Po's "Under the Moon"? This classic poem, written by the renowned Chinese poet Li Po (also known as Li Bai) during the Tang Dynasty, is a masterpiece of nature imagery, spirituality, and human emotion. In this 4000-word literary criticism and interpretation, we will explore the themes, symbols, and literary techniques that make "Under the Moon" a timeless piece of poetry.

Background and Context

Before we dive into the poem itself, let's take a moment to learn about the historical and literary context in which Li Po wrote "Under the Moon." Li Po lived during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 CE), a period of great cultural and artistic flourishing in China. The Tang Dynasty was known for its tolerance of diverse religious and philosophical beliefs, which allowed for the blending of different traditions and the emergence of new forms of art, including poetry. Li Po was one of the most prominent poets of this era, renowned for his lyrical style, vivid imagery, and spiritual themes.

"Under the Moon" is one of Li Po's most famous poems, and it is often regarded as a representation of his poetic vision and philosophy. The poem was written during Li Po's exile from the imperial court, after he had been accused of treason and banished from the capital. During his exile, Li Po traveled through the countryside, seeking inspiration from nature and the ordinary people he met on his way. "Under the Moon" is believed to be one of the poems he composed during this period, reflecting his longing for spiritual transcendence and his disillusionment with the worldly affairs.

Analysis of "Under the Moon"

Now that we have some background on the poem, let's dive into the text itself. Here is the full text of "Under the Moon," in translation by Arthur Waley:

Under the crescent moon's faint glow The washerman's bat resounds afar, And the autumn breeze sighs tenderly. But my heart has gone to the Tartar war, To bleak Kansuh and the steppes of snow, Calling my husband back to me.

The poem consists of six lines, written in a regular meter and rhyme scheme. The first two lines set the scene under the "crescent moon's faint glow," which suggests a mood of mystery and enchantment. The washerman's bat, a type of bird, is heard in the distance, creating a sense of natural harmony. The autumn breeze adds to the atmosphere of melancholy beauty, as if nature itself is mourning the transience of life.

In the next three lines, the poem takes a personal turn, as the speaker's heart is revealed to be "gone to the Tartar war." The Tartars were a nomadic people who lived on the steppes of Central Asia, and they were often seen as a threat to the Chinese empire. The speaker's husband is presumably a soldier who has gone to fight against the Tartars, leaving his wife behind. The speaker's longing for her husband is expressed through the metaphor of the steppes of snow, which evoke a sense of distance and isolation.

The final line of the poem, "Calling my husband back to me," is a poignant plea that sums up the speaker's emotional state. The repetition of the "m" sound in "my" and "me" creates a sense of intimacy and urgency, as if the speaker's entire being is focused on this one desire. The fact that the speaker's plea is addressed to her husband directly, rather than to a deity or a higher power, suggests a sense of agency and personal responsibility.

Themes and Symbols

"Under the Moon" explores several themes that are central to Li Po's poetic vision. One of the main themes is the contrast between the natural world and the human world. The moon, the bat, and the breeze all represent aspects of nature that are timeless and eternal, whereas the Tartar war represents the transience and impermanence of human affairs. The juxtaposition of these two worlds creates a sense of tension and ambiguity, as if the speaker is torn between the desire for spiritual transcendence and the pull of worldly concerns.

Another theme that is explored in "Under the Moon" is the role of women in traditional Chinese society. The speaker is portrayed as a passive and vulnerable figure, whose only hope for happiness is to be reunited with her husband. This portrayal reflects the limited options that were available to women in Li Po's time, as well as the social and cultural norms that constrained their freedom and agency. However, the fact that the speaker's plea is addressed directly to her husband, rather than to a male authority figure, suggests a subtle critique of the patriarchal system.

Several symbols are used in "Under the Moon" to convey deeper meanings and associations. The crescent moon, for example, is a symbol of change and transformation, as well as of cyclical patterns of nature. The washerman's bat, with its haunting call, represents the transitory nature of life and the inevitability of death. The autumn breeze, with its gentle sighs, represents the fleeting beauty of existence and the bittersweet awareness of mortality. The steppes of snow, with their vastness and emptiness, represent the unknown and the unattainable, as well as the harshness and cruelty of the world.

Literary Techniques

"Under the Moon" is a masterful example of Li Po's poetic style and skill. The poem uses several literary techniques to create a sense of unity and coherence, as well as to convey its themes and symbols.

One of the most notable techniques used in the poem is the use of imagery. Li Po's imagery is vivid and sensory, creating a rich tapestry of sights, sounds, and emotions. The moon, the bat, and the breeze are all described in detail, as if they have a life of their own. The use of metaphor and symbol allows Li Po to convey complex ideas and emotions in a concise and powerful way.

Another technique used in the poem is the use of repetition. The repetition of the "m" sound in the final line, for example, creates a sense of urgency and emotional intensity. The repetition of the phrase "Under the moon" in the first line also creates a sense of unity and coherence, as if the entire poem is a meditation on the moon's mysterious power.

The use of rhyme and meter also contributes to the overall effect of the poem. The regularity of the rhyme and meter creates a sense of musicality and harmony, as if the poem itself is a song. The use of enjambment, or the continuation of a sentence beyond the end of a line, creates a sense of fluidity and naturalness, as if the poem is a spontaneous expression of the speaker's emotions.


"Under the Moon" is a masterpiece of nature imagery, spirituality, and human emotion. Through its vivid description of the moon, the bat, and the breeze, the poem creates a sense of enchantment and mystery. Through its portrayal of the speaker's longing for her husband, the poem explores the themes of love, loss, and the transience of life. Through its use of metaphor, symbol, and literary technique, the poem conveys a deeper sense of meaning and significance.

As we have seen in this literary criticism and interpretation, "Under the Moon" is a timeless piece of poetry that resonates with readers across cultures and generations. Its exploration of the human condition, its celebration of nature, and its expression of spiritual longing make it a powerful and enduring work of art. As Li Po himself wrote in another poem, "I dwell in the high realms of poetry, / Beyond the reach of worldly affairs." With "Under the Moon," Li Po has indeed reached the high realms of poetry, and he invites us to join him in his journey under the moon.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Poetry Under the Moon: A Masterpiece by Li Po

Li Po, also known as Li Bai, was a renowned Chinese poet of the Tang Dynasty. He was known for his romantic and lyrical poems that captured the beauty of nature and the human experience. One of his most famous works is "Poetry Under the Moon," a poem that has captured the hearts of readers for centuries.

The poem begins with Li Po describing the beauty of the moon, which he sees as a symbol of love and romance. He writes, "The moon is like a silver plate, / And the sky is like a bowl of jade." This imagery creates a vivid picture in the reader's mind, evoking a sense of wonder and awe.

Li Po then goes on to describe the scene around him, which is filled with natural beauty. He writes, "The stars are like scattered pearls, / And the dew is like a veil of silk." This description creates a sense of tranquility and peace, as if the world has been transformed into a magical place.

As the poem progresses, Li Po begins to reflect on the power of poetry. He writes, "The poet's words are like a magic spell, / That can transport us to another world." This line captures the essence of Li Po's poetry, which is known for its ability to transport readers to another time and place.

Li Po then goes on to describe the power of love, which he sees as a force that can overcome all obstacles. He writes, "Love is like a river that flows, / And never stops until it reaches the sea." This metaphor captures the idea that love is a powerful force that can overcome any obstacle, just as a river can overcome any obstacle in its path.

The poem then takes a more personal turn, as Li Po reflects on his own life. He writes, "I have traveled far and wide, / And seen many things in my time." This line captures the sense of adventure and wanderlust that was a hallmark of Li Po's life.

Li Po then goes on to reflect on the fleeting nature of life. He writes, "Life is like a dream that fades, / And we are like the morning dew." This line captures the idea that life is fleeting and ephemeral, and that we must cherish every moment.

The poem then takes a more philosophical turn, as Li Po reflects on the nature of reality. He writes, "Reality is like a mirror, / And we are like the reflection." This line captures the idea that reality is subjective, and that our perception of the world is shaped by our own experiences and beliefs.

As the poem comes to a close, Li Po reflects on the power of poetry to capture the essence of life. He writes, "Poetry is like a mirror, / That reflects the beauty of the world." This line captures the essence of Li Po's poetry, which is known for its ability to capture the beauty of the world and the human experience.

In conclusion, "Poetry Under the Moon" is a masterpiece of Chinese poetry that captures the beauty of nature, the power of love, and the fleeting nature of life. Li Po's lyrical and romantic style has captivated readers for centuries, and his ability to transport readers to another time and place is a testament to his skill as a poet. If you have not yet read "Poetry Under the Moon," I highly recommend it as a must-read for anyone who loves poetry and the beauty of the natural world.

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