Thoughts on a Tranquil Night or Night Thoughts(《静夜思》)is a famous ancient Chinese poem, written by Li Bai, the most prominent poet of the Tang Dynasty. This poem was translated by numerous poetry lovers, including native English and Chinese speakers.

Here are 3 different versions of translations as follows.

Version 1 (tr. Linda Jaivin)

Before my bed the moonlight bright
it seems like frost upon the site.
I raise my head to gaze at moon
then bow it down as homesickness blooms.

Version 2 (tr. Xu Yuanchong)

Before my bed a pool of light—
O can it be hoar-frost on the ground?
Looking up, I find the moon bright;
Bowing, in homesickness I’m drowned.

Version 3 (tr. A.Z Foreman)

Before my bed tonight the moon shone down
I took it instead for frost upon the ground
I lift my head watching the mountain moon
I lower my head missing my northern home

Version 1 is translated by Ms. Linda Jaivin, a translator, Australian best-selling author and veteran sinologist (and probable a native speaker of English). Version 2 was translated by Mr. Xu Yuanchong, China's most renowned master translator (that's how the Chinese media described him). He is known for his outstanding translation of works of ancient poets into English and French. Version 3 was translated by A.Z. Foreman, a Russian-American linguist, medievalist, and translator on Twitter.

Version 3 is my favorite. But I'm mildly curious as to why there is no verb in the first line of the poem of both Version 1&2... I am not a native English speaker, and I was taught that a complete sentence must have a subject and predicate that consists of a verb, objects, and so on. In the sentences Before my bed the moonlight bright (v1) and Before my bed a pool of light (v2), there are no verbs. Are they truly grammatically wrong or is it just OK to dismiss verbs in English poems?

  • 5
    Poems and songs are not subject to 'rules' about sentences. Jul 27, 2023 at 8:08
  • The rules for sentence structure apply to prose, not poetry. There are even examples of complete verses of poems in English without a single verb. Ezra Pound's short 14 word poem "In a Station of the Metro" is one example.
    – Billy Kerr
    Jul 27, 2023 at 9:21
  • I found an article which may interest you: Verbless Poetry
    – Billy Kerr
    Jul 27, 2023 at 9:23
  • Moonlight in front of my bed -- // I took it for frost on the ground! // I lift my eyes to watch the mountain moon, // lower them and dream of home. —— translated by Vikram Seth. Jul 28, 2023 at 16:46

1 Answer 1


These are poems, not prose. The first line in the first two examples consists of a couple of phrases, not a sentence.

Phrases are correct grammar, but not complete on their own. In normal speech you either need to use phrases to build clauses, or use context to allow the clause to be understood.

— What did you see?
— A red cat.

The answer "A red cat" isn't a sentence, and isn't complete. But it can be understood in context.

In a poem, rules about "completeness" can be ignored. A poem does not need to be complete grammar, it is judged in terms of "beauty", "elegance", "effect" and so on.

By the way, this is also true in Chinese poems. They don't need to follow the rules of Chinese grammar.

  • 1
    Your example "a red cat" is called an "ellipsis", the (ancient greek, "ἔλλειψις,") word for "omission".
    – bakunin
    Jul 27, 2023 at 10:00

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