The most famous Chinese poem 靜夜思 Jing Ye Si Quiet Night Thoughts 李白 Li Bai: lyrics, pinyin, English translation, bright moon or mountain moon shan yue or ming yue, chuang a bed or something else? Barnaby Bright Yellow Moon (lyrics)


Quite night thoughts poem is the most popular Chinese quatrain. It was written by Li Bai / Li Po of the Tang dynasty. In Chinese spoken world, for students, this poem is also the first classic poem to learn in middle school Chinese textbook.

靜夜思
Jìng Yè Sī
Quiet Night Thoughts

李白
Li Bai

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床前明月光
Chuáng qián míng yuè guāng
In front of my bed is the bright moonlight

疑是地上霜
Yí shì dìshàng shuāng
I suspect it is frost on the ground.

舉頭望山月
Jǔ tóu wàng shān yuè
I raise my head to look at the mountain moon,

低頭思故鄉
Dītóu sī gùxiāng
Then I lower my head, thinking of my hometown.

Poem Analysis:

1. General analysis:

床前明月光
Chuáng qián míng yuè guāng
The setting is inside a bedroom at nighttime; the time that everyone supposes to go to sleep. The poet was ready for bed, but he was not asleep. Something was disturbing him. What was the disturbance? It was not the loud music songs played on the radio, neither the partygoers noisy chattering. It was the moonlight! Moonlight is supposed to be gentle and soothing, but here, why it worked as an irritating source?

疑是地上霜
Yí shì dìshàng shuāng
At the first time when the poet looked at the silvery moonlight’s reflection on the floor, he suspected it might be frost. So, this gives us a clue about when the poem was written. It was either the late autumn or the early winter; it was not a balmy hot summer night, but a rather cold night.

舉頭望山月
Jǔ tóu wàng shān yuè
Then the poet realized that it was not frost on the ground, but the moonlight. Thus, he raised his head and looked at the mountain moon.

低頭思故鄉
Dītóu sī gùxiāng
Why after he saw the moon in the sky, then Li Bai lowered down his head and thought of his hometown? You might say it is all because of the moon! Yes, you are right, it is all because of the moon. Was it because the moonbeam was too bright for the eyes? Nah, it was not. It was not the blazing sunlight, but the gentle moonlight. Then why the moon caused his homesickness? Was it because he would love to travel to the moon with his family for a vacation? High imagination but not right. In order to understand why moon caused his homesickness, you need to understand the meaning of moon in Chinese culture. Moon at its fullness stage is a perfect circle. This perfect full moon signifies union, family reunion. The shape of full moon is like all family members are at home, and no one is absent. When Li Bai looked at the moon, he thought of his family at thousand miles away. The more he thought, the more he missed them, and the more his sorrow of homesickness intensified. When you were sad, did you look up and smile? Not likely. More likely you would dip your head and sighed or sobbed. And that is exact reaction the poet had.

2. The different versions of the poem: Which one is the authentic version written by Li Bai?

In Chinese world, the version of the poem is

李白
Li Bai

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床前明月光
Chuáng qián míng yuè guāng
In front of my bed is the bright moonlight

疑是地上霜
Yí shì dìshàng shuāng
I suspect it is frost on the ground.

舉頭望明月
Jǔ tóu wàng míng yuè
I raise my head to look at the bright moon,

低頭思故鄉
Dītóu sī gùxiāng
Then I lower my head, thinking of my hometown.

In Japan, this poem is also very popular, however, they have a different version:

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床前看月光
Chuáng qián kàn yuè guāng
In front of bed I looked at the moonlight,

疑是地上霜
Yí shì dìshàng shuāng
I suspect it is frost on the ground.

舉頭望山月
Jǔ tóu wàng shān yuè
I raise my head to look at the mountain moon,

低頭思故鄉
Dītóu sī gùxiāng
Then I lower my head, thinking of my hometown.

Which one is the original version you might ask? I would say the Japanese version is the original one. One of the reasons is this poem is a concise five character quatrain, totally only 20 characters in it, it is highly unusual and unruly to repeatedly use míng yuè two words.
If the search, I found that there are other versions, older versions, such as Song Dynasty version and Yuan Dynasty version, they are the same as the Japanese version.
宋刊本《李太白文集》、宋人郭茂倩所编的《乐府诗集》、洪迈编《万首唐人绝句》,元萧士斌《分类补注李太白集》、明高木秉《唐诗品汇》第一句均作“床前看月光”,第三句也均作“举头望山月”。
The alteration happened in Ming and Qing dynasties. In the Ming Dynasty, it changed the third line to 举头望明月, and the first line still remains the same as old time’s 床前看月光.
唐人万首绝句》首先对此作了修改:
  床前看月光,疑是地上霜;举头望明月,低头思故乡。
While in Qing Dynasty, first two versions changed the first line from 床前看月光 to 床前明月光, while the third line remains the same as old form.
Such as: In 清代王士真《唐人万首绝句选》、沈德潜《唐诗别裁》:
  床前明月光,疑是地上霜;举头望山月,低头思故乡。
  The first line“床前看月光” was changed to “床前明月光”,while the third line remains the same。
However later, in the 乾隆 Gānlōng era (1735-1796), in 蘅塘退士’s (Héng táng tuì shì refers to Qing scholar Sun Zhu 孫洙, Retired Master of Hengtang) 唐诗三百首 (tángshīsānbǎi shǒu, The Three Hundred Tang Poems), the two lines which got alternated got put together and became the famous version we know today.

3. The argument about 床 chuáng: What 床 it really was?

There are different explanations about what is the 床 chuáng in 床前看月光 chuáng qián kàn yuèguāng or 床前明月光 chuáng qián míngyuè guāng .

The most popular version is 床 = bed as the sleeping bed. For nowadays, when Chinese people talk about 床, it refers to bed, most of the time.

The second definition of 床= the 床 as in 井床 jǐng chuáng as in 井台上的围栏 jǐng Tái shàng de wéilán 。井台 means 井口周围高出地面的部分 jǐng kǒu zhōuwéi gāochū dìmiàn de bùfen (the part of well opening which is higher than the ground). So, according to this version, 床 refers to 井床 jǐng chuáng: the rail that surrounds the well.
Some people argue that the ancient Chinese windows were very small, so inside the room, it was not common to have bright moonlight. Also, they think the poet should have basic common sense to know that there is no frost inside the house. Based on these two reasons they thought the 床 is 井床, instead of sleeping bed.
images19 The most famous Chinese poem 靜夜思 Jing Ye Si Quiet Night Thoughts  李白  Li Bai: lyrics, pinyin, English translation, bright moon or mountain moon shan yue or ming yue, chuang a bed or something else? Barnaby Bright Yellow Moon (lyrics)

The third definition is 床 = 胡床 hú chuáng ,胡床 is today’s 马扎 mǎ zā 。It is a wooden folding chair which came from outside of northwestern border. According to this theory, then, it is during the night time, the poet was sitting outside of his own door and thought of his hometown.
images18 The most famous Chinese poem 靜夜思 Jing Ye Si Quiet Night Thoughts  李白  Li Bai: lyrics, pinyin, English translation, bright moon or mountain moon shan yue or ming yue, chuang a bed or something else? Barnaby Bright Yellow Moon (lyrics)

There is an interesting article called “李白”床前明月光”的”床”找到物证 类似马扎”( Lǐ Bái “chuáng qián míngyuè guāng “de “chuáng “zhǎodào wù zhèng lèisì mǎ zā — The 床 chuáng in Li Bai’s 床前明月光, an evidence was found, and it is similar to mǎ zā).
http://news.ifeng.com/history/1/jishi/200806/0610_2663_587761.shtml

So, dear readers, what do you think 床 stands for in this poem?

Barnaby Bright Yellow Moon (lyrics)

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2 Responses to The most famous Chinese poem 靜夜思 Jing Ye Si Quiet Night Thoughts 李白 Li Bai: lyrics, pinyin, English translation, bright moon or mountain moon shan yue or ming yue, chuang a bed or something else? Barnaby Bright Yellow Moon (lyrics)

  1. Noxu says:

    When I learn this poem, I remember a song called “Ming Yue Ji Shi You”..
    :)

    • Learn Chinese Help says:

      Hi Noxu,
      Su Shi 苏轼, a great poet of Song 宋 Dyansty wrote a ci poem called Shui diao ge tou 水调歌头 Prelude to water melody. This poem was made into a very beautiful song. Teresa Teng 邓丽君 and Fei Wang 王菲 both sang it. Maybe this is the one you were mentioning about. Enjoy the supreme poetic song :) You can hear the songs and the lyrics with English translation here. http://www.chinesetolearn.com/try/

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