“Drinking Alone under the Moon” by Li Bai

Li Bai, also known as Li Po, was arguably the greatest poet of China’s Tang dynasty, and possibly of all its history. His verse is notable for the strong voice and personality it reflects, uncommon in the 8th century. An accomplished martial artist and academic genius, Li Bai was also a great lover of wine, becoming a member of the “Six Idlers of the Bamboo Brook,” an informal group dedicated to literature and drinking. It was the custom of the time to indulge socially, so the following poem—one of his most famous pieces—explores the unusual problem of drinking alone, for which Li Bai finds an uncommon solution.

Among the blossoms waits a jug of wine.
I pour myself a drink, no loved one near.
Then raising my cup, I invite the bright moon
and turn to my shadow. We are now three.
But the moon doesn’t understand drinking,
and my shadow follows my body like a slave.
Still, for a time they will be my companions,
a passing joy that should last through the spring.
I sing and the moon just wavers in the sky;
I dance and my shadow whips around like mad.
While lucid still, we have such fun together!
But stumbling drunk, each staggers off alone.
Though bound forever, unfettered we roam
till we meet on yonder river of stars.

—translated by David Bowles
April 20, 2014

Original Chinese



Huā jiān yī hú jiǔ,
Dú zhuó wū xiāng qīn;
Jǔ bēi yāo míng yuè,
Duì yǐng chéng sān rén.
Yuè jì bù jiě yǐn,
Yǐng tú suí wǒ shēn;
Zàn bàn yuè jiāng yǐng,
Xínglè xū jí chūn.
Wǒ gē yuè páihuái,
Wǒ wǔ yǐng língluàn;
Xǐng shí tóng jiāo huān,
Zuì hòu gè fēnsàn.
Yǒng jié wúqíng yóu,
Xiāng qī miǎo yúnhàn.

Hear audio at http://afe.easia.columbia.edu/at/libo/lb04.html


  1. This was just read at my 99 year old friend who herself was a master of poetry… She requested that it be read at her funeral. And it was

  2. Wow, that’s beautiful!

  3. Ashesh Thapa Magar

    My all time favorite poem. When ever I read it brings smile on my face… I dont know how many time I hve read it and how many time I will read it…

  4. Wendy Warshawski

    I first read this in the 1980’s and I still read it today -2021 in my 88th year. Beautiful.

  5. This is a beautiful poem, the moon has such a beautiful significance in Chinese culture and as a representation of beauty.

  6. Anyone here from Lostbelt 3?

  7. That is absolutely amazing!

    A pot of wine amid flowers,
    I drink alone without accompany.
    I raise the cup to invite the moon,
    With my shadow we make a party of three.
    But the moon does not know how to appreciate the wine,
    There is only the shadow following me around.
    For the moment I keep the shadow of the moon accompanied,
    To make merry while spring has not come to the end.
    The moon wandering while I am singing,
    Shadows scattering while I am dancing.
    Sobering we cheer together,
    Drunken to separate ways we are gone.
    Our apathetic bonding will last forever,
    And we will meet each other above the milky way.

    The poem is a fantastic work of art!

  8. Rudy Adolphe Leenaert

    The poem was for me the start to learn chinese.

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