»  Zhang Jiuling's "Looking At The Moon And Thinking Of One Far Away"


Looking At The Moon And Thinking Of One Far Away

by Zhang Jiuling  (a.d. 673-740 … but see my note below)



•  Play the reading


•  Text of the poem




Transcribed into pinyin:

    wàng yuè huái yuăn

hăi shàng shēng míng yuè
tiān yá gòng cĭ shí
qíng rén yuàn yáo yè
jìng xī qĭ xiāng sī
miè zhú lián guāng măn
pī yī jué lù zī
bù kān yíng shŏu zèng
huán qĭn mèng jiā qī

Witter Bynner's translation from The Chinese Translations:

    Looking at the Moon and Thinking of One Far Away

The moon, grown full now over the sea,
Brightening the whole of heaven,
Brings to separated hearts
The long thoughtfulness of night …
It is no darker though I blow out my candle.
It is no warmer though I put on my coat.
So I leave my message with the moon
And turn to my bed, hoping for dreams.

An utterly literal, word-for-word, translation goes like this:

Sea over come-forth bright moon
Sky limit together-with this time
Dear person repine distant night
At-last dusk arise mutual thoughts.
Put-out candle pity brightness full
Put-on coat feel exposed increase
Not worthy fill hand add-to
Return bedchamber dream auspicious time

•  Note

Wikipedia and its Chinese equivalent give Zhang's birth year as a.d. 678. Some other Wikipedias, however, give 673. So does Bynner, presumably on the scholarly authority of Kiang Kang-hu (江亢虎) — Bynner did not know Chinese. So does Tao Jinyan (陶今雁) in his 1979 book Three Hundred Tang Poems Annotated (唐诗三百首详注; pub. 江西人民出版社, Nanchang).

I note also (in August 2019) that one sentence in the English-language Wikipedia entry for Zhang begins: "In 685, when he was 12 …"

So what's the correct birth year, a.d. 678 or a.d. 673?

I turn to my Chinese reference books: my 1947 Cihai, my 1979 Cihai, and my 2004 Ciyuan. All those titles are generic terms meaning "desk encyclopedia." Cihai (written 辭海 in 1947, simplified to 辞海 in 1979, pronounced tssz-high) is literally "Sea of Words"; Ciyuan (辭源, the first character de-simplified for a classy look, pronounced tssz-yuen) is "Word Spring" or "Word Source." So what do they say?

The 1947 Cihai (pub. 中華書局股份有限公司, Shanghai) gives no birth date, only an account of Zhang's court career dated with reference to the emperors he served.

The 1979 Cihai (pub. 上海辞书出版社, Shanghai) says a.d. 678.

The 2004 Ciyuan (pub. 商務印書館, Beijing) gives a.d. 673.

It seems to me that a.d. 673 has the better of it. May the shade of this fine scholar and gentleman forgive me if I am wrong.