Originally read: March 17, 2013
More information about the Poet: Li Po
Translations are hard to analyze. Is the translator close to original text or not? What is missed due to the transfer of language. Regardless of bias or misinterpretation, I chose this poem because of how the images work -- they have qualities of persona, symbolism, and straight up Imagism, but they are explored and internalized to a certain degree where, I feel, the speaker, the moon, and the shadow have equal screen time, but different purposes.
Yes, in most Li Po poems there's something about being drunk. And in some ways, the introduction of wine -- something that distorts reality when drunk to much, is needed to loosen the readers own perceptions, creating the "suspension of belief" when the speaker personifies the moon and his shadow.
And this is where the merge between image/symbolism come in, but not quite. The speaker "invite[s] the moon" and "turn[s] to his shadow" The images start off as just images that are at the request of the speaker. Then the speaker gives some insight on each, but not in a symbolic (the moon represents a woman) way or a description ("the moon" or "the shadow" taking more of the focus) way. More of, the description here that goes back to the scene of drinking, "The moon does not know how to drink." and "shadow merely follows the movement of my body."
It's as though the speaker sobers up a second and understands that the images are of his own concoction and how silly it is to conjure up the images to make him not as lonely. But then here comes this line, "The moon has brought the shadow to keep me company a while." Literally, yes, the moon creates a shadow, and yes, there's the addition (illusion) of company. However, there's sentiment in the line that isn't sentiment -- not as clear cut -- like the shadow should mean something more but doesn't since the speaker points out the meaning. And when the meaning is pointed out, the only focus i the action.
Like in the these three lines, "I start a song and the moon begins to reel. / I rise and dance and the shadow moves grotesquely /While I'm still conscious let's rejoice with one another." Here there's the literal with the slight judgement of "grotesque" -- it's as if the speaker is observing his own scene while making the decisions.
The last three lines of the poem is differentiated with the first line setting the scene, "After I'm drunk let each one goes his way." The scene is more in the drunken state, more in the suspension of disbelief -- but the speaker admits a sense of leaving (which has to come and go) and asks for promises for the moon and the shadow to meet again. And here the idea of symbolism is high -- what does the shadow mean to the poem/speaker? What does the moon mean to the poem/speaker? Companionship? How? Why?
Yes, too many rhetorical questions, but the poem is Dionysian in the sense that the core of the poem happens in the moment, but the poem is not about the "mirth" (mentioned in the poem) of connections. I feel the poem deals with the other side of the Dionysian in which to be joyous, there has to be a disconnect, a suspension of disbelief, the shrug of the real, in order to be drunk and be merry.