top of page

Keep Up with the Essay One Paragraph at a Time

A New Feature (Almost) Every Friday

Want to subscribe for free?

Click here.

Main feature

May 24, 2024





“Moonlit Night”

in A Little Primer of Tu Fu

by David Hawkes


“When shall we lean on the open casement together and gaze at the moon until the tears on our cheeks are dry?”—Tu Fu


In A Little Primer of Tu Fu those who know no Chinese can get a glimpse of the power and beauty of the eighth century Chinese writer that some consider the greatest lyric poet of all time. In addition to translating thirty-five poems into prose English, David Hawkes also reproduces the original poem in Chinese characters and Pinyin, includes guides to pronunciation, and offers commentary and exegesis based on a deep understanding of ancient Chinese language and culture.


In prose, the lyrics of Tu Fu read like a memoir of a writer living in tumultuous times. We chose “Moonlit Night” for the Paragraph of the Week which describes a moment during the first year of the eight-year An Lushan Rebellion, perhaps the bloodiest civil war in human history, when Tu Fu was separated from his family. During the Mid-Autumn Festival “traditionally celebrated by eating ‘moon-cakes’ and crabs and drinking wine and, of course, looking at the moon” the poet thinks of his wife and children at home.

The simplicity of the content in Tu Fu’s poems masks the complexity of form making it hard for readers in English to see their beauty. Complicated rules of euphony and parallel structure govern each pair of lines, sounds that are often lost even on modern Chinese readers since the language has changed over time. In our commentary we look at a few of those formal elements that Hawkes taught us.

The Paragraph of the Week


Moonlit Night


Tonight in Fu-chou my wife will be watching this moon alone. I think with tenderness of my far-away little ones, too young to understand about their father in Ch'ang-an. My wife's soft hair must be wet from the scented night-mist, and her white arms chilled by the cold moonlight. When shall we lean on the open casement together and gaze at the moon until the tears on our cheeks are dry?


—Tu Fu (translated by David Hawkes)



Each sentence of David Hawkes’ translation represents a two-line couplet following rules of parallelism. Some couplets are expected to be complementary and others antithetical. Sometimes the poet will break these rules—it is hard, for instance, to see the parallelism of the second couplet about the children not understanding their father gone, but the next couplet makes up for the loss in a flurry of echoings: “’fragrant mist’ parallels ‘clear light’, ‘cloud hair’ parallels ‘jade arms’, and ‘wet’ parallels ‘cold.’” All anticipate the day when the couple are reunited and, leaning on the open window, “gaze at the moon” until tears of mixed emotions dry on their cheeks.




~   ~   ~

Subscribe to The Humble Essayist

Due to the toxic nature of much social media, we no longer promote our site on X and only once or twice a week on Facebook. The best way to keep up with us is to add your name to our growing list of subscribers, and we will send free, brief, weekly reminders of our features with a link to the page directly to your email. Please click on the blue button to subscribe.

Click the blue button for weekly reminders.

Return to Main Feature Here

~   ~   ~


News from Great River Review

Three lyric essays by Steven Harvey appear in the newest edition of Great River Review. The first piece, called “Oakleaf Hydrangea” begins this way:


"The oakleaf hydrangea winking at me over the top of my book carves a saucy shape in the mind standing boldly as itself between me and the rest of the world, hands on hips as it were, the woody bush a swirl like the vessel of water it is named for..."

Learn more here.

Listen to the Dan Hill Podcast on The Beloved Republic 

at The New Books Network

Dan Hill interviews author Steven Harvey about politics, family, race, and being The Humble Essayist on his radio program at the New Books Network.



Return to main feature here.

Great River Review.jpg
New Books Network logo.webp

News from The Humble Essayist Press


Beware poets writing prose? Nah. Check out the new releases from The Humble Essayist Press! Essay collections by two award-winning poets. Learn more here.

Kathy and Syd.png

The Beloved Republic Review

Thanks to Tarn Wilson for her review of The Beloved Republic at the  River Teeth website. She writes: “In his titular essay 'The Beloved Republic,' Harvey makes this heartening promise to those who feel worried and wearied, helpless in the face of 'war and tyranny,' that by devoting ourselves to lives of steady kindness, creativity, and friendship we are joining an invisible, benevolent army.” Read the full review here.

River Teeth Logo.png


Thanks to Brevity magazine for publishing the short prose piece “The Hermit Thrush.”

You can read the entire piece at Brevity here.

Hunger Mountain

Thanks to Hunger Mountain for publishing “Aubade,” my exploration of perception in lyric prose. It begins with this epigraph from the artist Paul Cézanne: “The landscape thinks itself in me and I am its consciousness.” 


You can read the entire brief piece here.

Zone 3 Interview on The Beloved Republic


Thanks to Amy Wright and the folks at Zone 3 for granting me an interview about my new book. Amy reads with discernment, asks great and surprising questions, and listens carefully to the answers. Check out the question she opens with in the sidebar--it goes right to the heart of the matter! See the full interview here.

Hunger Mountain.png
Wright Question 1.jpg

The Beloved Republic by Steven Harvey

Available at Bookstores and Online

See more at the author's website and check out our video trailers here.

Trailer One

Trailer Two

The Beloved Republic

~   ~   ~

The Beloved Republic


I am pleased to announce that my fourth collection of personal essays  won the Wandering Aengus Press nonfiction award and has been nominated for two PushcartsThanks to the Press for this honor.

What is the Beloved Republic? E. M. Forster, who coined the phrase, called it “an aristocracy of the sensitive, the considerate, and the plucky” who “have the power to endure” and “can take a joke.” Pitted against authoritarianism, the Beloved Republic is the peaceful and fragile confederacy of kind, benevolent, and creative people in a world of tyrants, thugs, and loud-mouthed bullies. Taking Forster’s phrase for its title, my book can be read as dispatches from that besieged land.

Available online and at bookstores. Learn  more at the author's website 

wandering aengus.jpg
The Beloved Republic front cover.jpg
FOLLY BEACH cover jpg.jpg

~   ~   ~

Folly Beach 

Folly Beach is a book-length personal essay about easing fears of mortality and loss through creativity. It never loses sight of the inevitable losses that life brings, but doesn't let loss have the last word.  In the face of the grim, Folly Beach holds up the human capacity to create as our sufficient joy.


goodreads logo.jpg

In a world of loss, creativity is the best revenge.


Follow on Goodreads

and write a review.

You can learn more about the recent work of Steven Harvey at his author's page here.

THE Mission

We at The Humble Essayist are in love with the paragraph, that lowliest of literary techniques.  A sentence stands out as a noble thing: a complete thought.  But what is a paragraph?  And what, in particular, is a good one?  You know it when you read it--that is our article of faith.  So on Friday of each week, beginning on Independence Day 2014, the very day 169 years earlier that Henry Thoreau moved to Walden Pond, we will select a single paragraph from an essay or a reflective memoir and print it here along with a paragraph of commentary.   We will choose paragraphs that are surprising, beautifully written, and, above all, thematic--illuminating the author's comment on life.  Each paragraph of the week is, in short, a concise review of the writer's work.  We hope that this page will introduce you to many exciting authors and their ideas.


The Humble Essayist thanks Clipartpal for the public domain artwork of "The Old Man Reading" that is the logo for the site.

bottom of page