5 Classic Chinese Poems to Celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival
The Mid-Autumn Festival, also known as the Moon Festival, takes place on the 15th day of the 8th month in the Lunar calendar (this year is Sep 10, 2022), when the moon is at its fullest.
A type of Thanksgiving celebration, the Mid-Autumn Festival is a time for people to get together with family, share a great meal, and bask in the beauty of the moon.
The latter has been the subject of many legends and poems in Chinese culture, making this festival one of the most romantic and poetic holidays for Chinese people. It’s also a symbol of peace, prosperity, and loving relationships.
When the Sun rises to the peak then it’s time to fall;
When the moon is full then it’s time to reduce.
– The Book of Changes
These lines reflect the spirit of Taoism and the belief that people shouldn’t go to extremes in their lives. If we find ourselves at the height of our success, perhaps we should step back to avoid a fall.
This principle has guided many famous Chinese officials in history who decided to resign at the peak of their fame to prevent a potential downfall.
In the West, we see a similar example with George Washington who refused the offer to become king following his victory for the American colonies after the War of Independence.
Instead of seeking glory, he stepped back, leaving the power in the hands of Congress. He subsequently became the founding father of the U.S. republic, thus ushering in a nation that inspired the world with its democratic values.
We all have joys and sorrows, partings and reunions.
The moon is bright or dim; there are waxings and wanings.
Nothing in this world is ever perfect.
– Su Shi
Life’s joys and sorrows are transitory; impermanence is the norm of life. Su Shi’s verses warn people to be careful during moments of glory and be hopeful during times of loss.
In accepting this impermanence, we become more resilient and willing to let go of our desires and pursuits, knowing they are but fleeting moments in the long journey of life.
With a bright moon in my heart never waning,
Through the ages, we’ll enjoy it round and bright.
The moon’s glory embraces the rivers and land,
To please the heart is not only the autumn moonlight.
– Wang Yangming
This poem is a metaphor for life’s unpredictable circumstances—the joys and sorrows that are part of the ebb and flow of time.
According to the poet, as long as there’s light in our hearts, our surroundings will look bright, even if circumstances change as we age.
If we can embrace the world with a bright heart, we’ll be full of inner joy, no longer dependent on external circumstances to make us happy.
The moon, grown full now over the sea,
Brightening the whole of heaven,
We, far away from each other,
are cherishing this moment together now
– Zhang Jiuling
At this time, when the moon is full and bright, we might miss our beloved ones who aren’t with us, but the reminder that we’re all sitting under the same moon is often a consolation that we can still be close to each other in our hearts.
People today can’t see the moon of yore;
The moon today did light people before.
– Li Bai
Lives come and go, but the moon remains constant in the sky. These verses are a reminder that life on earth is transitory but that humans have shared similar experiences, wishes, and desires throughout the ages.
After all, the moon’s presence in the night sky inspires the eternal question that has always accompanied humankind: Where do we come from and where do we go?