Songs of longing

This post comes to us from Win Yee Tan in Sydney, Australia.  Win Yee was born in Malaysia to Chinese parents, and has lived in Australia for more than half of her life.  She is grateful for the opportunity to learn intimately from all the cultures she is a part of, and is always eager to have insight into the many societies around the world.


静夜思 (Ponderings on a quiet night) by 李白 (Li Bai) was the first poem that I learnt off by heart as a young child.  It was through Li’s work that I was introduced to the heart-wrenching experiences of nostalgia, of foreign-ness, and of longing for home.

It isn’t surprising then, that Li’s poem floated its way into my consciousness when the realisation that I wasn’t going to be home for Chinese New Year this year started to sink in.  As I thought of the bright moon that many others were undoubtedly going to appreciate as they celebrated with their families, I felt a strange sense of uncertainty – will I be able to fly solo for Chinese New Year?

Only time will tell, I suppose!

Meanwhile, here’s a funny little “cross-translation” of Li’s poem 静夜思 (Ponderings on a quiet night).  I wanted to personally translate Li’s poem into English.  I felt that it would be a nice representation of our shared experience of longing – despite being separated by almost a millennium.  Then I thought to do a “continuation” of the poem.  My version.  Taking up the thread of Li’s and tying on my own musings of the nostalgia his words evoked.

I wrote my piece in English, and then translated it into Chinese, to contrast it with the Chinese-to-English process I took with Li’s.  I also kept to Li’s five-character paradigm, which proved to be an interesting challenge in itself!






Ponderings on a quiet night

Moonlight enrobes the bed

As frost shrouds the cold ground

I lift my gaze to behold the moon

And lower it, longing for my hometown

Silent night

Crimson dreams and vibrant pinks

Silent laughter dusting lips

A tale of joyous festive lights

Beyond this torrid summer’s night






© Win Yee Tan, 2017

* Opening 4-line poem by 李白