Two Poets, One Moon

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Lingyan Ke


Only a few decades ago, Western scholars of comparative literature tended to argue that any English – Chinese comparison was “futile or meaningless” (Yu, 162). As this discipline evolves, however, this previous notion is being replaced by the perspective that “a glimpse of the otherness of the other can produce new perspectives on our own faces in the great mirror of culture” (Hayot, 90). My thesis contributes to this stream of innovation by bringing into comparison the function of the moon in Su Shi’s “Water Melody” and in Samuel Coleridge’s “Dejection: An Ode”, finding that in both poems, the moon functions to foreground the poets’ psychological experiences and acts as an agent in the resolution of emotional conflict in the poems and lives of the poets. The purpose of this work is to broaden the field in which both English and Chinese poetry are understood to exist by examining each through the lens of the other. Both “Water Melody” and “Dejection” have been examined to the point of exhaustion in each of their relative traditions, but bringing them into new light may reveal previously unseen angles. For example, this research finds that Susan Stewart’s theory of eighteenth – century English nocturnes is highly compatible with twelfth – century Chinese nocturnes, and this foreign theory can breathe new life into an ossified conversation. In a dissonant example, the familiar Western associations of the moon as an evil omen, recalling vampires and were­wolves, can feel bizarre when imagined from the perspective of Chinese associations of the moon with family reunion. This comparison, in addition to exploring these two poems and poets, ultimately creates a destabilizing effect by which a reader may be induced to move beyond the traditions, to a point where Weltliteratur is no longer the goal, as it was for Goethe, but instead a starting point. 

Published: Nov 14, 2022

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The Place of Asia in Comparative Literature: A Panel on Method