The Solitude of Night by Li Bai is a drowsy poem that acts as a tribute to the silent moments of peace in life. After a party, the poet stumbles home in the moonlight, walking alongside the river ‘alone’. It is quietly beautiful and plays intricately with sound and pacing to further the poem’s beauty.
Waking up after a night of drinking ‘wine’, The Solitude of Night by Li Bai focuses on the poet arising and walking home. There is a moment of laying drowsily, collecting his thoughts before setting off. The poet notices that all his friends are still asleep, just like the birds that have now retreated to their trees. In his sleep he has been covered in ‘brown flakes’, a tree shedding on him in his unconscious state. After arising, Bai walks out into the night, walking along the riverside as he journeys home.
You can read the full poem here.
Li Bai’s The Solitude of Night is 7 lines long, each line containing an end stop of varying forms. Although there is no rhyme scheme within the poem, the deliberate use of punctuation creates a stunted meter. This metrical disruption reflects the sleepy atmosphere of the poem, the poet’s drunken awakening being slow and stagnated.
Analysis of The Solitude of Night
It was at a wine party—
The lack of description contained in the first word of the poem, ‘it’ suggests that this is a frequent occurrence for Li Bai, waking up hungover after a heavy night of drinking. Contextually, Bai died after getting drunk on a boat and falling into a river, which strangely mirrors the narrative of this poem. It seems that wondering home while a little drunk is something that Bai often participated in, hence his unspecific and generalized ‘it’.
The use of a hyphen at the end of the first line forces a large metrical break in the poem, with Bai stopping the rhythm. This moment of silence reflects the title of the poem, the general tone furthering from this moment into a certain stillness. On top of this, the hyphen could also be a spatial representation of the moment in which Bai is waking up and coming to terms with his surroundings, the poet pausing to adjust to the situation.
I lay in a drowse, knowing it not.
The use of caesura furthers the sense that Bai is pausing to adjust to his surroundings. The emphasis placed on ‘drowse’ characterizes the sleepy scene, Bai plodding slowly through the narrative while he wakes. The use of an end stop on each line of the poem further slows the meter of the poem. The slow meter reflects the sleepy scene, both structure and content presenting the drowsy awakening of the poet.
The blown flowers fell and filled my lap.
The third line of the poem focuses on the ‘brown flowers fell and filled my lap’, Bai examining the leaves and petals that have fallen on him in the light. It seems that he may have passed out outside, lounging on the floor under a tree after the ‘wine party’. The fricative alliteration of ‘f’ across ‘flowers fell and filled’ reflects the motion of the falling leaves, the repeated sound capturing the essence of the floating leaves. Again, Bai uses structure to reflect elements of content.
When I arose, still drunken,
It is at this point within the poem that Bai gets to his feelings, ‘when I arose’. Yet, he points out that he is ‘still drunken’, swaying side to side and he stumbles to his feat. The caesura between ‘arose, still drunken’ could further the sense of physical disconnection he feels, the hangover preventing him from leaping up. His brain is foggy from alcohol, with the disrupted meter engendering this idea.
The birds had all gone to their nests,
This line is the first indication of the fact that it is still quite late/quite early (depending on how you look at it). The ‘birds’ have all ‘gone to their nests’, returning to their homes to sleep. It seems that upon seeing this, Bai is filled with the desire to do the same thing, making his own way home. The focus on nature, following on from the fallen leaves, brings a sense of beauty to the poem, Bai focusing on the wonders of the natural world.
And there remained but few of my comrades.
Although he himself had passed out, some of his ‘comrades’ ‘remained’. This could be interpreted as still awake and drinking, continuing the ‘wine party’ while Bai was sleeping elsewhere. Simultaneously, this could also be the picture of sleeping ‘comrades’ dotted around the property, everyone having fallen into a state of slumber. Bai is the first to arise, now making his way home without waking anyone else up.
I went along the river—alone in the moonlight.
The final line of the poem focuses on Bai’s movements home. He ‘went along the river’, the focus on the body of water, combined with the ‘moonlight’, creating a beautiful atmosphere. Indeed, referencing the title of the poem, The Solitude of Night, Bai is enjoying his solitary walk home, taking in the cooling silence of ‘Night’. The notion of ‘moonlight’ is delicate and beautiful, the luminous sight of the moon accompanying Bai as he walks home by the river.
The focus on the personal pronoun ‘I’ furthers the sense that Bai is complete ‘alone’ in his journey home. This is a personal experience, one without sound or input from other people. Therefore, by having ‘I’ as the first word of the last line, the syntax highlights its importance, relating to the ‘solitude’ of the title.
Bai employs a hyphen after ‘river—‘ to further the impact of the natural scenery. Bai wants the reader to notice the halcyon depiction of the state, the calming movement of water, fallen petals, sleeping birds, and a watchful moon all culminating in a serene picture of the natural world. Bai is totally at peace, walking contentedly home.