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Autumn Moon Festival Poetry

Updated on September 18, 2013
Elyn MacInnis profile image

Elyn lived in China with her family for 30 years, soaking up the history and culture, having fun, and making many friends.

Chinese Mid- Autumn Moon Festival poetry

Poetry? What does Poetry have to do with the Chinese Autumn Moon Festival?

On the night of the mid-autumn moon, usually in September, Chinese people love to go outside and be with the moon. The crisp air makes the moon look clearer than in the heat of the summer, and it is perfect weather to gather the family for a feast to celebrate the beauty of the moon.

One traditional way to enjoy the evening is to read poetry. But people also usually eat snacks, and drink tea or sweet wine under the beautiful silvery moon. So why not have a moon festival party with your family, sit outside, eat round things, and enjoy the beautiful full moon of autumn? Because the Moon Festival changes its date every year, just like Easter or Passover, depending on the Chinese lunar calendar, it is easy to put a date to this holiday. Just look for the full moon in September, and you will have a great night for an Autumn Moon Festival.

If it is cloudy or rains here in Shanghai on the day of the full moon, we have creative options we have figured out - you can always use "other round things" to represent the moon! In this photo you can see a slice of wintermelon, which was our "moon representative" a year ago. This year we were in Beijing, and it was cloudy there too, so we bought a huge yellow "pomelo", which is like an enormous grapefruit, and hung it in the window. Or you could cut one out and color your own to hang on the glass!

So don't be afraid that it will rain during the Moon Festival. You can have a moon, real or otherwise, And hopefully you can be outside, at least briefly. And you have a pot of tea and maybe some nuts or dried fruit or raisins. Cookies, if they are round are an excellent snack, and if there is a Chinese shop in your neighborhood, they will have real mooncakes to try.

By the way... what is that rabbit figure in my hand? It is "the rabbit in the moon," which is what Chinese people see when they look at the moon. The rabbit mixes medicine for people who are ill, so that is why he has a mortar and pestle (grinder) in his hands. This version of the rabbit in the moon is considered the "city god" of Beijing.

But what poetry should you read? Here are some to get you started.

A Moon poem by Li Bai, perhaps China's most famous poet

If you are lonely, you can invite the moon and your shadow to join you - that makes three!

Drinking Alone by Moonlight

A pot of wine in the flower garden,

but no friends drink with me.

So I raise my cup to the bright moon

and to my shadow, which makes us three,

but the moon won't drink

and my shadow just creeps about my heels.

Yet in your company, moon and shadow,

I have a wild time till spring dies out.

I sing and the moon shudders.

My shadow staggers when I dance.

We have our fun while I can stand

then drift apart when I fall asleep.

Let's share this empty journey often

and meet again in the milky river of stars.

tr Tony Barnstone & Chou Ping, 2005

bamboo and ice
bamboo and ice

China's Most Famous Poem About the Moon

A very short one...

Thoughts in a Silent Night by Li Bai, (701-762)

The moonlight falling by my bed tonight

I took for early frost upon the ground.

I lift my head, gaze at the moon, so bright,

I lower my head, think of my native land.

-translated by Frederick Turner and Y. D.

Do you like different translations? Here is another translation of the same poem:

So bright a gleam on the foot of my bed --

Could there have been a frost already?

Lifting myself to look, I found that it was moonlight.

Sinking back again, I thought suddenly of home.

-- translated by Witter Byner, 1920, from "300 Tang Poems"

This poem is taught in every elementary school in China. I don't believe there is a person in China who can't recite it. The Chinese phrasing is lovely, and the feeling deep. Of all the Chinese poets, Li Bai is probably the finest.

See the picture on the right?

I hardly have any photos of the moon. It isn't easy to take pictures of, but I do have this photo of the bamboo in the garden after an ice storm. Doesn't it look like there is a tiny moon at the end of each leaf? I think of this photo as "poetry in a picture."

Fall Day Floating On West Lake by Lin Pu

Imagine how lovely the moon looks over West Lake in China...

Fall Day Floating On West Lake

Mountain reflections mingle with water's breath;

Autumn makes a boundless sky.

Delighted to see temples in the deep forest,

The shore is silent, hate to move my boat.

Sparse reeds snap in the cold,

Remnant glow of red gathers the evening,

My cottage, where is it?

Returning, a fisherman's song rises.

This photo really is a picture of West Lake on the evening of the Moon Festival. I took it there in 2006.

Autumn Moon Resources

Music, poetry and stories about the moon.

Phases Of The Moon: Traditional Chinese Music
Phases Of The Moon: Traditional Chinese Music
You can listen to samples of this before you purchase it, and if you like Chinese music, you will enjoy this recording.
Bright Moon, White Clouds: Selected Poems of Li Po (Shambhala Library)
Bright Moon, White Clouds: Selected Poems of Li Po (Shambhala Library)
Li Po is another name for the famous Chinese poet of the 700's named Li Bai. His talent is remarkable, and still relevant to our time.
Moon Poetry (Ting Yue Shi)
Moon Poetry (Ting Yue Shi)
All pieces about the moon, this album would be a wonderful accompaniment for an evening of moon gazing.
Long Night Moon
Long Night Moon
This book is not about China, but instead about native American culture. I know you will enjoy this book.

More on the Autumn Moon

Here are a few more books... I couldn't face leaving them out...

moon gate
moon gate

An Autumn Evening in the Mountains

By Wang Wei, the poet from the 700s, who is famous because his poems are like paintings.

After rain the empty mountain

Stands autumnal in the evening,

Moonlight in its groves of pine,

Stones of crystal in its brooks.

Bamboos whisper of washer-girls bound for home,

Lotus-leaves yield before a fisher-boat -

And what does it matter that springtime has gone,

While you are here, O Prince of Friends?

The round door in the picture here is called a "moon door" or a "moon gate." The view through a moon door is not like any other because it is round. These must be really hard to build, but I am so glad someone thought of this idea.

full autumn moon
full autumn moon

Moon Poem

by Han Shan - Cold Mountain, a Taoist and Zen (Chan) Poet

My mind/heart is like the Autumn moon

Reflecting from the clear pure waters of the pool.

There is nothing to compare:

What can I say?

The picture here is called "Bell Mountain Moon" by Paul Wang, a calligrapher and teacher of Chinese Culture in Beijing.

Han Shan wrote many poems with the moon in them. Here is another:

Alive in the mountains, not at rest,

My mind cries for passing years.

Gathering herbs to find long life,

Still I've not achieved Immortality.

My field's deep, and veiled in cloud,

But the wood's bright, the moon's full.

Why am I here? Can't I go?

Heart still tied to enchanted pines!

Han Shan actually lived on the mountain of the same name, and was a very scraggly character. He had a friend named Big Stick, and another named Pickup. Red Pine has translated Han Shan's poetry, and has many good stories in his book The Collected Poems of Cold Mountain. Cold Mountain is Han Shan in English.

A Traveler's Moon

by Bai Ju Yi, also a poet alive in the 700s and 800s, who wrote over 2,800 poems

I, a traveler, came from the south of the river,

When the moon was only a crescent.

In my long, distant journeying,

I've seen thrice its clear light in full.

At dawn I travel with a waning moon;

When night falls, I lodge with the new moon;

Who says that the moon has no feeling?

It has kept me company for hundreds of miles.

In the morning I set out from the bridge of the Wei River,

In the evening I enter the streets of Chang An,

But I wonder about the moon tonight:

In whose home will it be a guest?

This small glassed in room (see photo above) is located in "The Couple's Garden" in Suzhou, China. The Couple's Garden is called that because many years ago a husband and wife team of poets lived in the garden and filled their lives with beautiful poetry. It is an interesting place. In those days most of the houses had rooms in the back of the living area in separate housing where they were "kept safe" from the outside world. In this couple's small estate, the husband had his garden on one side, and the woman had her section on the other - they would spend much time together enjoying their poetry and their little hide-out from the world. If you ever get to Suzhou, you must go see this garden. It is so lovely. If you would like to see my page on The Chinese Garden, click here.

What does your moon look like tonight?

The poets thought about this too...

The Mid-Autumn Moon

by Li Qiao

A full moon hangs high in the chilly sky,

All say it's the same everywhere, round and bright.

But how can one be sure thousands of li away

Wind and perhaps rain may not be marring the night?

Isn't poetry wonderful?

It's good for your brain to wander in feelings because when you do it connects you to your heart.

Do you have some thoughts about the full autumn moon? - Please share them with us

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    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Ah! One thing I miss - moon cakes! I simply cannot find them here! Great lens!

    • Elyn MacInnis profile imageAUTHOR

      Elyn MacInnis 

      7 years ago from Shanghai, China

      @mumsgather: It sounds like so much fun - in China where I live people are mostly busy with their families or with entertaining business friends. I like the idea of everyone playing with candles and lanterns in the park - that is a wonderful idea!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I'm looking forward to mid autumn festival or moon cake festival as it is more commonly known here in Malaysia, at the end of this month. We will eat moon cake and the kids will go to the park where there will be lots of other neighbourhood kids, teens, parents and elderly strolling around with lanterns. The kids will get to play with candles too at this time which they love.

    • Elyn MacInnis profile imageAUTHOR

      Elyn MacInnis 

      7 years ago from Shanghai, China

      @Diana Wenzel: I am so glad you enjoyed them. How nice to live in a high valley where you don't have a lot of extra light. Being able to see the moon clearly is such a joy.

    • Elyn MacInnis profile imageAUTHOR

      Elyn MacInnis 

      7 years ago from Shanghai, China

      @anonymous: I have heard of this festival, but never had the chance to celebrate it. I wish I could! It sounds like fun too!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I love the poetry! Enjoyed the 'Super' moon this year, can't wait to see the 'harvest' moon this fall.

    • Elyn MacInnis profile imageAUTHOR

      Elyn MacInnis 

      7 years ago from Shanghai, China

      @anonymous: Oh - how lovely. I wish I could join you!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      In India, we have a similar festival on full moon; we celebrate with the family and friends and make "Kheer" at night.

    • Diana Wenzel profile image

      Renaissance Woman 

      8 years ago from Colorado

      Exquisite. I love eastern poetry and aesthetics. The autumn moon is glorious here. Too bad we don't celebrate it as we should here in the West. I don't have light pollution where I live in a high alpine valley, so I can enjoy the moon and the stars throughout the year. Thank you for sharing this lovely poetry. Appreciated!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      moon festival verse:

      harvest celebrations in

      lunar reflections.

      Wonderful lens!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Very informative! Thumbs up! The poems are lovely, I like poems.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I love the moon...what a fabulous lens!


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