Drinking Alone Under the Moon Poem by Li Po Summary, Notes and Line by Line Explanation in English for Students


Drinking Alone under the Moon is written by the famous Chinese poet Li Po. it was written around the year 743 during the T’ang Dynasty. Thus, this poem belongs to Li Po’s middle period, which lasted briefly with him being a court scribe in the capital from 742 to 744. The translated version of the poem shown is done by David Hinton. The translated version was released in the work The Selected Poems of Li Po, translated by David Hinton and published in the year 1996. It is interesting to note that during the early 20th century, the poet Ezra Pound helped to introduce Li Po’s works to English readers with his meticulous and moving translations. In this poem, Li Po paints a vivid picture as he drinks alone at night, with only the moon and his shadows as his companions. 

About the Author 

Li Po, also known as Li Bai, is a prominent Chinese poet who lived during the Tang Dynasty, which lasted from 618 to 907 AD. Li Bai lived in the 8th century and is considered one of the greatest poets in Chinese literature. His poetry is known for its romanticism, vivid imagery, and celebration of nature. Li Bai’s works often reflect his experiences travelling through various regions of China, as well as his encounters with people from different walks of life. Some of his most famous poems include Quiet Night Thoughts, Drinking Alone by Moonlight, and The River-Merchant’s Wife: A Letter. The poetry of Li Po has been as familiar to readers in China and Japan as the poetry of Shakespeare is to Western audiences.


This translated version of the poem consists of 14 lines that are divided into 7 couplets. All the lines are of equal length and some of them are enjambed. 

Lines 1- 4

Among the blossoms, a single jar of wine.

No one else here, I ladle it out myself.

Raising my cup, I toast the bright moon,

and facing my shadow makes friends three,


The poem begins with the speaker setting the scene. There are flowers in bloom and amongst them, the speaker sits with a single jar of wine. Since there is no companion with the speaker, he ladles out the wine himself. The speaker, having already emphasized the fact that he is alone, raises his cup to toast the moon. And he faces his shadow and says that all three of them are friends. 


The poet has depicted a true picture of solitude here. In the first line itself, the use of the word “single” also signifies the singleness of the speaker. Among the T’ang Dynasty poets, and especially in the work of Li Po, the moon was considered to have special significance. It was thought to be the feminine balance of the masculine Earth, in keeping with the way that Taoist philosophy sees all things in complementary pairs. Thus, here, the Moon can be seen as the opposite of the poet himself. Additionally, rather than treating his shadow as an extension of himself, the poet treats it as a separate person. 

Lines 5-8

though moon has never understood wine,

and shadow only trails along behind me.

Kindred a moment with moon and shadow,

I've found a joy that must infuse spring:


Since the moon is far from the poet and is also a non-living entity, it has never understood wine. And the speaker’s shadow only trails behind him. In this way, none of these understand the speaker’s solitude. The speaker goes on to say that despite of this, he has kindred a moment with the moon and his shadow. He has found a joy that shall make the springtime beautiful. 


Even though he feels that they are drinking together, the narrator does not feel that he and the moon are on common terms with each other. He has the same feeling about his shadow, which is present with him but will never be his peer. Although he considers himself to have found two drinking companions, he still is lonely. Despite the differences that separate him from his drinking companions, the speaker finds a moment of blissful harmony as the three of them appreciate their relationship.

Lines 9-14

I sing, and moon rocks back and forth;

I dance, and shadow tumbles into pieces.

Sober, we're together and happy. Drunk,

we scatter away into our own directions:

intimates forever, we'll wander carefree

and meet again in Star River distances.


Talking further about his relationship with the moon and his shadows, the speaker says that as he sings, the moon rocks back and forth. And as he dances, his shadow also moves and tumbles into pieces. When the speaker is sober, all of them are happy together. But when the speaker gets drunk, they all scatter because of the speaker’s distorted vision. The speaker comments that it is their destiny to scatter away, even though they are “intimates” or friends with each other. The speaker ends the poem by saying that all three of them shall wander carefree and meet again in “Star River distances”.


Although the speaker comments that the moon and his shadows move, it is him singing, dancing, and thus, swaying back and forth. Not only does he personify the moon to make it sound like it is his drinking companion, but he also pretends that the moon is as drunk as he is. Also, while he was able to bond with the elements of nature when he was sober, he is unable to focus when drunk, and therefore the happiness he found soon disappears. The moment of kindred feeling that he referred to in line 8 was just a fleeting one; it passes, and the three elements of person, moon, and shadow are destined to go their own separate ways. Lastly, the speaker comments that even though the moment when they are all in harmonious union is over, the speaker and his imaginary drinking companions will be “intimates forever.” The Star River referred to in line 14 is the constellation that contemporary Americans refer to as the Milky Way. The poet’s expectation to end up there, along with his shadow, reflects what he thinks will happen after death when he will be integrated into nature in a way that he cannot be in life.