Mid-autumn happened upon me last night. By dusk, the clouds had shifted in the western skies to form a large and porous screen, blocking the rays of what was a spectacular sunset. The heavens steadily darkened to a luxurious dark blue and stretched down to the waters below, quiet as a pious believer lost in prayer. It wasn’t long before the weeping of the rain could be heard, a low and continuous wailing beating down on the ship sails. Misty rain streamed from the low-hanging clouds, pulling the horizon closer. Dark shadows, whether mountains or clouds one could not tell, danced in the distance, oblivious to the streaks of tears displayed unashamedly in both the skies and waters.
Another autumn is here! The rain picked up in intensity, wrapping me in a chill as damp as sadness, whispering for the ears of my soul to hear, “autumn!” My already joyless soul could not resist a soaking in such gentleness. Slowly it released the longings for autumn, gathered through the days of spring and summer, and together with the sadness of the moment, produced a weakling child – sorrow.
Light has long left the evening skies, and the rain has come to a stop as well. The clouds that had sobbed now lazily man their posts, occasionally letting through pale lights of the weakest white: a signal that the moon is dressed up, and ready to make her appearance. Smoke exhaled by the ship chimneys linked hands and formed a crooked bridge, stretching far, far into the west, and in the waters was its reflection, the dancing waves created by the ship carving its way in the ocean. They too, reached west, telling a tale of from whence we had come.
In the north a bright star peeked out from a chink in the clouds. Like a bridesmaid, it too, was dressed in elegance. But the bride, in all her splendor, has yet to emerge.
As a child, I had sat patiently in front of the windows every mid-autumn night, waiting for the moment when I can see the “moon’s corona”. If there were clouds in the sky, I’d sink into worry for the “sparkly moon”. But should there be clouds like fish scales, my little heart would enlarge in excitement, because I’ve often heard adults say a corona can be seen when there are “tiled clouds”. I’d sit and pray and hope for the moon to be crowned, but more often than not, I’m sent to bed before it happens. And so, the corona had always been my wishful thinking, existing only in my imagination, even to now.
Yet at this moment clouds line the sky like tiles, breaking down a dam in my mind so that memories of a far-away childhood come flooding through; but where now, is that innocent child?
Moonlight has always had a mysterious power. It makes waves roar; it makes sorrow roll. A sigh under the moon can solidify into mountains; a tear under the moon can water one hundred orchids, one thousand lavenders. I suspect sorrow is man’s heritage, because why else would we feel an urge to weep when washed by moonlight, even when no obvious tragedies have marred our lives?
But tonight, I do not weep. Not because I have no tears, neither because civilized education have uprooted my purest instincts, but because I want to feel this sacred sorrow, and how it pricks at my curiosity. I long to be like François-René de Chateaubriand and delve into the mysteries of “sore eyes and cold bones”. The coldness of wisdom and heat of passion are archenemies. They do not co-exist.
But on such a romantic night swathed in moonlight, it almost seems inhumane to practice calculated analysis. So my heart turns, quickly gathering and shutting away the sharpness of intellect. Free rein is given to mesmerized tears, what music can it produce? Space is given to the poetic soul, what dreamlands will it wander through?
The moon hides herself in cavernous clouds, haloed in pale light. Wisps of mists are carefully pulled to cover her face. The sea gently rises and falls, flashing bits of silver, the musical notes made by their graceful fingers falling into a symphony. Further in the distance, the waves hidden from the light toss in the dark. Lamenting perhaps? Or maybe, secretly longing…
Half of me puts my feelings down to nature, while the other half stands, poised with pen in hand, gazing up at the moon, wanting to trace the trail of autumn sorrow her light has carved on earth tonight. For her dainty feet will glide through the world, what human business then, can be hidden from her beautiful eyes?
A tiny village stands by the Ganges River in India. Next to the village, a lake rests in peace, surrounded by ancient banyan trees. And at the edge of the lake, a young man and woman sits, lost in love. On the grass between them was an old copper censer, the aroma of the best incense, warm and tingling, is their love. Moonlight gently bends herself down from the clouds and imprints her lips ever so lightly on the young woman’s forehead, and then, inhaling deeply the smell of love, she departs again on her boat of clouds.
On the second floor of a house, someone had forgotten to lower the blinds. Fat sycamore leaves leave mysterious hand shadows on the window. Through the open blinds moonlight sees an angelic child fast asleep. She tiptoes inside and lowers herself by his bedside. Her fingers wander over his soft eyelashes, chubby cheeks, and curly hair. Quietly she smiles to herself and lifts her eyes out the window. Soon, she must return to that ocean of clouds.
A disheartened poet sits on a rock by the river. Disappointment runs wild on his face. The shadow of his beloved flowed like the river in his heart, and try as he might, he could not taste a drop of sweetness, no matter how hard he pressed and twisted his gloom. Dejectedly, he lifts his face and opens his hands to receive the moonlight, who, at the moment, happened to be passing by. He bathed his swollen and moist eyes in her cool light, and somehow, miraculously, comfort seeps in like a cold and refreshing stream. With his poet’s pen, he records down the moment:
Moonlight! Thou art the wet nurse of gloomy children!
A peek is taken inside a wooden cabin facing the ocean: half a loaf of bread and strips of cold meat lie on the table, the leftovers of a meal; a Bible, propped open on the coffee table by the window; two lit candles weeping; and by the fireplace sits a crumpled old woman, whose eyes, half open, half closed, rests on the young woman weeping on her knee. The young lady’s dress spreads on the floor like a giant butterfly. The old woman tears away her eyes, only to latch them on the scenery out the window: in the distance, the sea danced to an ancient rhythm, courting Moonlight as it glided past. She groaned heavily to the moon-lit Bible,
In an elegant study sits a lone maiden. She had dimmed the lights and now leans her head lazily on the arm of a rocking chair. Slanted moonlight pours in through the east wall, showering her in pure light, casting her petite shadow onto the speckled stone floor. The tips of her hair, the curve of her lips, and the magnolia blossoms in her yard, all tremble gently beneath the night wind. The aroma from her breaths captivated not only the nearby flowers and plants; even Moonlight fell under its charm. The heavenly dimples on her cheeks had not blossomed for days. Slowly, she wastes away. What thoughts flit through her head now? Oh Moonlight, can you lift my soul away, and lower it onto the magnolias yards away from her?
By the mines in Wales sat three miners with the moon overhead and pipes in hand. They had said all they could think of, but this strange moonlight had turned the pine trees and the streams to something seductive. Their eyes, tired from a day’s hard work, stayed stubbornly open. An understanding passed between them, unspoken, and they each had two extra puffs of the pipe. Their faces, darkened by coal, could not conceal drained and tired hearts beneath: despite the lure of the moonlight and babbling brook, their hearts could not produce any thought, graceful or elegant. Silently the moon dips west, and just as silently the miners empty their pipes of dust and leave for bed. Moonlight shot a glance at them from the back of their cabin. They are asleep. If dreams visited them, it couldn’t bring more than what was inside and outside of their mines.
Moonlight then soars past the Irish Sea and climbs up the mountains in Hereford, gazing intently on a red pond. The water in the pond is still as ice, iron in color. The surrounding hills are covered with mudstones and sandstones, and not one little tree could be seen. Around the water sprouted clumps of weeds, turning the pond into a green bowl filled to the brim with moonlight. Quietness is the music of tonight: no insects chirped, no fish leaped. Only the trickling of water as it winded between the rocks could be heard, quiet as tiny specks of candlelight in a giant cathedral. Moonlight rested for a while on the iron surface, then lifting the hems of her silver dress, departed for the other side of the mountain.
The ship had changed direction from due east to northeast when it left Singapore yesterday. For the past few days, the tail of the ship had pointed directly at the sunset, but from now on, this painter of sunset has been shifted to our left.
As I stepped on the deck after dinner last night, the right side of the ship was an ocean of silver waves, sharp but mysterious. Its sorrowful countenance held my eyes. The orb of silver light hung directly over head. Tonight, she is not very bright. Her exquisitely made-up face is hidden behind gray muslin, dancing upon it was the softness of a sigh, a mist of tears. She isn’t very dazzling, yet her pure and gentle light is like a shy glance from the periwinkle blue eyes of a maiden, like the reflection of the rosy spring sun on snow-capped mountaintops. Indescribable. Attractive. Glamorous. No person of feeling can resist the anxiousness caused by her light, like tight strings of an instrument, about to burst out with all the precious things of life. Sometimes, before the moon touches the heart, or the moment it touches the heart, the body changes too: blood can either freeze or rush, the nose prickles, the tear glands burn and then suddenly become moist. These are the autumn thoughts brought about by the autumn moon – sorrow.
The moon of last night was the source of autumn longings. But not only that, it’s the representation of all things melancholy, all things lamentable, all things deep. It’s the most natural yet most amazing scene in the turning of the seasons; it’s the most desolate yet most profound message in the land of poetry.
To all tonight the moon did call;
In which household does autumn fall?
There is a unique charm to the Chinese language, especially the artistic structures of a few characters, the crowning jewels of our culture. For example, autumn (秋) is already a beauty, but sorrow (愁，autumn on one’s heart) is beauty unparalleled. It writes like ripples on the lake surface made by the toss of a pebble; it reads like wind stroking the needles of pine trees. This inventive combination of strokes and dots form a work of art like that crafted by Corot, perfected by Michelangelo, and inspired by Chopin. To put it scientifically, it’s as precise as the structure of an atom, gathering the power of the universe into a tiny nucleus. These thirteen strokes are the crystallization of the tragedies in human life, the groans and the tears, filled with hypnotizing mystery. If you had Gautier’s supernatural genius, you might be able to dream of the character sorrow turning itself into emerald and then to jade, and, should you gently tap it with a silver hammer, it will sprout silver streams that dance upon the clouds.
I do not gaze upon the moon to look for autumn, nor do I visit the autumn moon to seek sorrow. Dante would never have allowed anyone to purposefully drown in the sorrows of life. Yet I see the moon and sense autumn, and the windows of this season opens onto grief. The human body is a bouquet of sensitive and reflective senses!
Repeatedly I come back to the reality of the scenery in front of my eyes. The autumn moon shrouded in the clouds is like a maid dressed in silk. Her serene face is like a bride soon to be joined in union, yet her grey garments, her faltering footsteps, her hidden streaks of tears, makes her more like a weeping maid attending a funeral. Therefore I cry,
Dear Silver Moon of Autumn,
I do not wish you joined in union!
This is the autumn moon. This is what she makes one feel. It matters not whether she’s a new moon hanging in the sunset, a sliver shining at dusk, or a golden plate among stars in midnight, a silver bed among the clouds, or a plump mid-autumn moon; it matters not whether she’s waxing or waning, high or low. This season has veiled her in mists of sadness, has opened before her doors of grief! You cannot escape from this “grey melody”, you cannot help but feel this autumnal sorrow.
Oh autumn moonlight!
Who can resist the stroking of your fingers,
Supple and light, cold and bright.
Cast your eyes upon the waves,
Who weeps in the night…
The silver moon, the misty clouds
Still wandering hearts, and eyes so proud
Tonight you come, wrapped in white,
A wedding perhaps?
Or a burial rite…