Home > culture, General, language > 李白 (Li Bai, 701-762AD): 静夜思 (Thoughts on a Still Night)

李白 (Li Bai, 701-762AD): 静夜思 (Thoughts on a Still Night)

李白 (Li Bai, 701-762AD) is one of the most beloved Tang Dynasty (618-907AD) poets in Chinese history. This is a rendition of his poem, 静夜思 (“Thoughts on a Still Night”) where he reminisces his home. Below are couple of videos presenting this poem in various ways. Many Chinese children, some, perhaps shortly after they start talking, will be taught this poem (see second video below).

In Beijing Opera Style[Per Li denghui comment #1, since I am not 100% sure. 12/8/09, dewang] (try viewing this article through our redirect if video below does not appear):

床前明月光,
疑是地上霜。
举头望明月,
低头思故乡。

Below is a translation by the Chinese Poems web site:
http://www.chinese-poems.com/lb4.html

Before my bed, the moon is shining bright,
I think that it is frost upon the ground.
I raise my head and look at the bright moon,
I lower my head and think of home.

Below 李白’s poem by a Chinese scholar and a very cute Chinese girl:

  1. Li Denghui
    December 8th, 2009 at 21:21 | #1

    Holy god this is gay. Why do I keep clicking on your video links? You should be ashamed for liking this (the video, not the poem – the poem is beautiful). And where do you get off thinking this is Beijing opera style? Have you ever seen a Beijing opera before? Beijing opera is good stuff. It has hard edges, not like this milky schmaltz. This style is called “CCTV CHEESE”.

  2. December 8th, 2009 at 22:04 | #2

    Hi Li Denghui,

    I can accept your criticisms and opinion as totally valid, except you might want to consider taking some prozac.
    In case you didn’t know, like I said before, I am rediscovering Chinese culture here, and I don’t pretend to know it well.

  3. Hohhot
    December 8th, 2009 at 22:38 | #3

    床前明月光,地上鞋两双,
    ……

  4. December 8th, 2009 at 22:44 | #4

    Hi Hohhot, #3,

    Haha, that’s more likely. 🙂 But even that, in the coming decades, could become a thing of the past.

    I was reading Du Fu’s poems (versions translated into English), and it seems poets during Tang Dynasty traveled a lot throughout China!

  5. Rhan
    December 9th, 2009 at 02:32 | #5

    “consider taking some prozac.”

    And some Haloperidol.

  6. BMY
    December 9th, 2009 at 02:35 | #6

    Apart from its beauty, the reason of the popularity of this poem is it is so easily can be understood, remembered by almost anyone in the society. Personally I like more of 将进酒 and 蜀道难 which I think are better poems and better represent LiBai’s style.

    LiBai and DuFu traveled for different reasons. DuFu had to fled to the south because of war(安史之乱) broke out in the north.LiBai seemed rich. He drunk and wrote poems all over the country.

  7. Rhan
    December 9th, 2009 at 02:40 | #7

    Hi yinyang,

    Does English have words to differentiate 诗 and 词?

  8. BMY
    December 9th, 2009 at 02:41 | #8

    the TuDou vedio is not BeiJing opera for sure. It sounds more like operas(or alike) from the south. Generally operas from the north more towards 刚阳 like Qin Opera(秦腔)and Beijing opera. The operas from south more towards 阴柔 like Yue Opera(越剧)

  9. December 9th, 2009 at 08:48 | #9

    Thx BMY. 🙂

    Rhan – one is poem and the other phrase? BMY or Berlin or some other folks here should know.

  10. hohhot
    December 9th, 2009 at 15:03 | #10

    traditional chinese poetry are probably like antiques, their beauty cannot be recreated by modern poets, they can only write modern poems in classic styles. A copy can never be made better than the genuine thing. A few monachs and political strong men in chinese history were accomplished poets, Mao Zedong was one of them. Cao Cao was another poltiician poet in the period of 3 kingdoms. Those poems are usually very masculine(刚阳)

    北国风光,千里冰封,万里雪飘。
    望长城内外,惟余莽莽,大河上下,顿失滔滔。
    山舞银蛇,原驰蜡象,欲与天公试比高。
    须晴日,看红装素裹,分外妖娆。

    江山如此多娇,引无数英雄竞折腰。
    惜秦皇汉武,略输文采,唐宗宋祖,稍逊风骚。
    一代天骄,成吉思汗,只识弯弓射大雕。
    俱往矣,数风流人物,还看今朝。

    —— 毛泽东《沁园春·雪》

    神龟虽寿,犹有竟时。
    腾蛇乘雾,终为土灰。
    老骥伏枥,志在千里;
    烈士暮年,壮心不已。
    盈缩之期,不但在天;
    养怡之福,可得永年。
    幸甚至哉,歌以咏志。

    —— 曹操《龟虽寿》

     
    东临碣石,以观沧海。
    水何澹澹,山岛竦峙。
    树木丛生,百草丰茂。
    秋风萧瑟,洪波涌起。
    日月之行,若出其中;
    星汉灿烂,若出其里。
    幸甚至哉!歌以咏志。

    —— 曹操《观沧海》

    Personally I quite like those so-called frontier and fortress peoms, like

    葡萄美酒夜光杯,
    欲饮琵琶马上催。
    醉卧沙场君莫笑,
    古来征战几人回。

    —王翰《凉州词》

    Sadula, one of Mao’s favorite poets, was a Mongol, you can see their similarities in style

    石头城上,
    望天低吴楚,
    眼空无物。
    指点六朝形胜地,
    唯有青山如壁。
    蔽日旌旗,
    连云樯艣,
    白骨纷如雪。
    一江南北,
    消磨多少豪杰。

    寂寞避暑离宫,
    东风辇路,
    芳草年年发。
    落日无人松径里,
    鬼火高低明灭。
    歌舞樽前,
    繁华镜里,
    暗换青青发。
    伤心千古,
    秦准一片明月。

    ——萨都剌《百字令·登石头城》

  11. Rhan
    December 10th, 2009 at 00:38 | #11

    hohhot “traditional chinese poetry are probably like antiques, their beauty cannot be recreated by modern poets, they can only write modern poems in classic styles. A copy can never be made better than the genuine thing.”

    Excerpt :
    陶傑說,白話文文學輕視語言品味,公然使用下層文字,滅了中文的個性,對下一代造成不良的影響。他說,五四運動將中國思想封建,歸咎于文言文,所以用激進的方式極力反對文言文,推昌白話文。他認為,這種激進的手段,將中華5000多年文化與華人一刀隔絕。 他直言,白話文雖清新,但有囉唆的毛病,就好像新文學作者如魯迅,原本用精簡文字就可表達的意思,非要長篇大論不可。他直批白話文公然使用下層文字如“搞”、“上馬”,甚至在官方文件亦然。“他們不重視文字品味,例如‘搞’為貶意詞,好像搞男女關係,但在白話文卻用作搞好關係、搞經濟、搞文化。”
    他覺得一些白話文作品千文一面,面貌銅瓷化,即使長篇大論,也只是在講述同一事物。 他說,現在是無法回復文言文文學,要世人用回文言文,惟他希望華人在閱讀文言文或唐詩時,回想過去中文是多麼地精簡,卻能表達強大的意境。他說,漢語跟其他語言一樣,都在不斷演變,包括推出新的字匯,惟在成長的同時,不要放棄中文的優點。
    陶傑說,現今人們在寫作時,往往不重視文字的精簡,多余的文字就好像“脂肪”,會令心臟堵塞,引發心臟病。 他強調,中文文字的運用與訓練不能懶散,對中文只是“明白就算”,只會令本身的中文越來越差。他認為,學中文必須閱讀文言文,因為文言文講究文字意境,以簡短的詞句,就能表達出意思。“學文言文不但寫作變得精簡,思維也會變快,下筆也快。”他繼稱,文言文其實一直存在在人們的生活中,一些我們經常引用的文言文,已變成口語化,就好像古人名句和成語,所以並不能說文言文與時代脫節。 對於中文在未來的世界地位,陶傑說,由於中國崛起,世界上每年有3000萬名洋人學中文,顯示中文受歡迎程度。他補充,中國只有經濟崛起是不夠的,必須將中華文化傳播,語文就是最好的媒介。

    The too much emphasize of language precision may cause Chinese lost the luster of artistic conception in express and convey of message, seem like we can’t have it both ways. Giving up of classical language and traditional Chinese could be one of the worst decisions we modern Chinese did to our language and culture.

    PS/ SKC criticism on China and Chinese always make me wonder if he and TaoJie are brothers. Their perception is very similar. Hahaha!

  12. Stinky
    December 10th, 2009 at 18:05 | #12

    7 or 8 years ago, the singer Karen Mok (莫文蔚) released a cd entitled “i” (i.e., sounds like the character 爱). One of the songs on this cd is called 如果你是李白, the final verse of which is a recitation (in Cantonese) of 静夜思. You might want to look it up online and take a listen.

  13. Hohhot
    December 10th, 2009 at 21:25 | #13

    @Rhan
    Taojie’s view is very representative of those elitist view of chinese language, they can be very class conscious when they talk about simplified chinese and baihuawen, i.e. modern chinese based on colloquial language( Isn’t that what languages are about?) There are islamic fundamentalists, there are also linguist fundamentalists who are obsessed with the correct form of chinese characters and classic writing. classic chinese is a unique written language system, ancient culture elites had to write concisely because writing in old times was a time consuming troublesome business, for example, one had to make ink with those ink stone first, then use brush, or in older times, one had to carve on some prepared bamboo plates. naturally ancient chinese would write as few as possible characters to save themselves a lot trouble. Obviously Taojie does not think much of the contribution made by lower class/ordinary people to the richness of chinese language.

  14. Rhan
    December 11th, 2009 at 03:42 | #14

    Hohhot,
    I concur with you. However, I am thinking that HK Cantonese is the top symbolic of colloquial language among all dialect, perhaps Taojie do not want to see the same happen to Mandarin especially among the 读书人?

    Stinky,
    Among poem that were composed into modern songs, I think the best is still Deng Lijun (邓丽君) 但愿人长久 and 月满西楼. Huang Shujun (黄舒骏) rap of 登鹳雀楼 and lyric that include 兩岸猿聲啼不住,輕舟已過萬重山 on 两岸 is also quite nice.

  15. S.K. Cheung
    December 11th, 2009 at 07:45 | #15

    To hothot:
    there’s a reason why the PRC language is called “simplified” Chinese, rather than just “Chinese”. Because there is an alternate, more complete version thereof.

  16. hohhot
    December 11th, 2009 at 10:37 | #16

    @S.K.Cheung
    I know the difference between the so-called simplified简体and formal繁体 Chinese. I think to simplify chinese writing is one of the few good things Chinese Communist government has done.
    Apparently pre-1949 nationalist government also had a plan to simplify chinese characters, but somehow failed to implement it. Probably that is why Chiang Kaishek(常凯申)was kicked out of the mainland china with his money bags:-)

    http://pic2.itiexue.net/pics/2009_11_20_3019_10303019.jpg
    http://pic.itiexue.net/pics/2009_11_20_3020_10303020.jpg
    http://pic.itiexue.net/pics/2009_11_20_3021_10303021.jpg
    http://pic.itiexue.net/pics/2009_11_20_3022_10303022.jpg
    http://pic.itiexue.net/pics/2009_11_20_3023_10303023.jpg

  17. Hohhot
    December 11th, 2009 at 14:09 | #17

    IS it against the rules here to comment on simplified and formal chinese characters, and call Chiang Kaishek and his cronies money bags?

  18. December 11th, 2009 at 14:14 | #18

    Poems are hard to translate, but fun as well! Here’s a very quick version I’ve just knocked up. I think a little flexibility in meter goes a long way to preventing things sounding too clunky.

    On a quiet night

    Moonbeams shine down at the foot of my bed
    Like frost
    I lift up my head and look at the moon
    Missing home

    床前明月光,
    疑是地上霜。
    举头望明月,
    低头思故乡。

  19. Sue
    December 11th, 2009 at 23:22 | #19

    I read it that 床 means 胡床, called 交椅 later? not 100% sure now.
    But anyway, it’s a kind of chair, not bed.

    The version of this poem quoted here is from Qing time. Earlier version was slightly different. I heard Japan is still teaching the older version, something like: 床前看月光,疑似地上霜。举头望山月,低头思故乡。

  20. December 11th, 2009 at 23:44 | #20

    Thx for sharing, all. You guys have provided quite a bit more of materials for me to continue my learning.

    Hi Sue, #19,
    Interesting!
    I’ve always wondered if Tang dynasty was when Japan and China were closest culturally. Or when did the bifurcation began more in earnest.

  21. jxie
    January 18th, 2010 at 04:06 | #21

    Sue/yinyang #19/#20

    In the well known version in China now, 明月 is repeated twice. Obviously it is a bad form. It’s believed that it was revised in early Qing when 明 was otherwise a censored word. Since ancient poems aren’t subject to that, it was a covert way to fight the new Manchu rulers by the bookworms. The Japanese version was from China in Song, when Japan was then China’s faithful ally, or some may even call client state. Song was an interesting dynasty. It’s estimated to produce 50% to 75% of the global GDP at its peak. Chinese merchants controlled a large portion of the global marine trade from Africa, Middle East all the way to Southeast Asia. Song copper coins were then the international currency. After decades of fighting with the Mongols (then christened as Yuan), and finally lost the war after the Mongols had acquired enough manpower and especially military technologies from the bulk of the Eurasia, the whole nation of Japan was in a mourning mood. After that, the bifurcation began.

    Some historians believe that the living standard and literacy rate reached in Song, didn’t get matched in China again until in the last 20 years or so.

    Speaking of which, when Marco Polo visited China, China was ruled by Yuan. The living standard of the former capital of Southern Song, Hangchow (Hangzhou) was quite a bit lower than in Song already. Yet Marco Polo was amazed by the wealth of the city. Among many interesting tidbits he found, one was that how frequently Chinese took bath — at least several times a month. That was more frequently than English as late as the Victorian era. I am not picking on the Victorian English’s personal hygiene, but rather they had the highest living standard in the world in late 1800s to early 1900s.

    How fortune changes! And luckily continues to change.

  22. January 18th, 2010 at 22:09 | #22

    Hi Jxie, #21,

    Fascinating stuff. Some day I’ll read up more about that period of Chinese history, and I think you have condensed the key gist of it for me, especially on that bifurcation quesiton. 🙂

    “How fortune changes! And luckily continues to change.”

    Indeed!

  23. raffiaflower
    January 20th, 2010 at 09:24 | #23

    General Yue Fei’s poem Man Jiang Hong – All The River Is Red – was also set to music in the 20th century and became a rallying call against the invasion. The song is very sonorous and full of qi. My grandfather liked this tune.
    Music in China was sometimes a means of protest and organising rebellion.
    The folk tune Fengyang song from Henan, for instance, chides the founding emperor Zhu of Ming – I read this one youtube! Paul Muni sings a stanza from it in the classic movie Good Earth.
    And if you watch the new movie The Message, you will also learn that the resistance used folk tunes as a means of recognising comrades.

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