Poetry Friday – My Translation of “Moon” by Xue Tao

I love reading Poetry Friday posts!  It makes me so happy to hear other people’s thoughts on poetry.  Today I’d like to share a little background on a wonderful poem I co-translated a few years ago called “Moon” by Xue Tao, one of the most famous female poets who lived during the Tang Dynasty, over a thousand years ago.  Here is “Moon” in Chinese:



Here is my translation:


A small shape of a hook,
follows a fan of the Han.
The shadow of the moon is round,
which all of humankind can see.

Here is the unexpected creative journey of “Moon,” a little poem translation that could:

Poem Translation For Article
I originally translated this poem for an article “When Flowers Bloom, When Flowers Fall,” which I wrote for the poetry magazine Stone Telling.  It was a fun article to write, and it was actually was part of my research for world building for my YA novel set in an alternate ancient Asia.  I explain more about the premise of this novel and how it inspired my first published picture book at John Scalzi’s The Big Idea.

Lyrics to a Song Played on Internet Radio
Then when I started composing choral music, I decided to set my translation for “Moon” using the pentatonic scale.  “Moon” the song was recorded at one of my choral workshops, where I was singing with four other friends.  Then Kinetics Radio played it on internet radio.  You can’t listen to it now because it’s internet radio and meant to be ephemeral.  I continued to compose, building a set of five songs, each song taking its English text from translations of five different poems written by five different poets (2 women & 3 men) who lived during the Tang Dynasty.

Song Sung in Performance
“Moon” became the first song in “A Pentatonic Moon” a series of five songs written for women’s voices.   I debuted these songs in a concert of all my original compositions and arrangements, and the concert’s title was Songs of Moon and Mischief.  Twelve wonderful singers performed my music and my uncle KC played the Irish tin whistle.  It was an amazing event, and I feel so fortunate that we had an appreciative audience of around 90.  “Moon” was later performed by the San Francisco Choral Artists, whose concert received a rave review from the San Francisco Classical Voice.

Published in an Online Literary Journal as Text and as Song
Then “A Pentatonic Moon” was accepted for the inaugural issue of Interfictions, where they managed to embed the songs so you can listen to them while you read the translations!

Published as Part of a Musical Album
I’m currently planning an album release of Songs of Moon and Mischief, and “Moon” is one of them.  If all goes well, the album will be ready for download, and hopefully available as a CD, in late 2014.

This is the journey for “Moon” thus far.  I hope it continues to travel far and wide.

Sometimes a poem
is just a poem. But words
can transform to song.

5 thoughts on “Poetry Friday – My Translation of “Moon” by Xue Tao”

  1. Simply gorgeous, Emily! I loved learning about the progression of this poem. I am impressed that you are a composer as well. I used to be a Music Librarian at The Boston Conservatory and had many composer friends in those days. I’ll look for you on FB and twitter as I would like to follow you!

  2. @Tabitha – Thank you for your kind comment!

    @Mary – I do love reading Poetry Friday roundups, and I hope to be more active and actually contribute in the future! Thanks for visiting!

    @B.J. – In many ways I find composing frees me up to write better, probably because I have less formal training a composer vs. as a writer. Oh, I would love to be FB & Twitter friends.

  3. Oh, how lovely! And “Songs of Moon and Mischief” is a poem in itself. Congratulations on this project, and thank you for sharing it with us here. I am always so intrigued by translations of poems – how much one must understand to cross that bridge of culture and words too. Please do join us again!

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