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Zhang Jiuling’s poem expresses the feelings of a poet who misses his family (or possibly lovers) on a full-moon night. Above the ocean, the bright full-moon rises slowly, and the poet wishes his family (or lovers) far away were sharing this moment together with him. The poet laments that he cannot send a handful of moonlight to them as a gift, and by going back to sleep he might meet them in his dreams.
There are many translations of this text (and I had already set it in Chinese as part of Songs of the Moon and Stars (2017)) - some adhering closely to the original Chinese text, and some more poetic and freely adapted into English. This version seems to fall into the latter category.
Zhang Jiuling was born in 673, during the reign of Emperor Gaozong. His family was from Qujiang in Shao Prefecture (roughly modern Shaoguan, Guangdong) which was at the time a relatively remote area of the Tang empire. His family traced its ancestry to the Jin Dynasty (265-420). He became a noted poet and scholar, titled the Count Wenxian of Shixing, deputy head of the legislative bureau of government, then chancellor to the Emperor Xuanzong of the Tang Dynasty. He died in 740 following demotion, after his advice was disregarded by the Emperor.
Looking at the Moon was written at the request of conductor David Squire for his choir Euphony (Kristin School, Auckland), with the request that the piece used guzheng as accompaniment.
Commissioned by Kristin School
for David Squire and Euphony (Kristin School)
Text by Zhang Jiuling (in an English translation)