“Behold the Dark Green Sea” by Cao Cao

Cao Cao (155-220 C.E.) was a statesman, master of military affairs and a great poet. He became the Prime Minister of the Chinese kingdom of Wei in 209, in 214 was knighted the Duke of Wei, in 217 became the King of Wei and was conferred the title Emperor Wu of Wei after his death. The few poems of his still remaining were all written in the yuefu or folkloric ballad form, which Cao Cao adapted to explore issues of his time. Though a military leader, he was drawn to the beauty in nature, composing some of the first Chinese poetry focused solely on landscapes.

Behold the Dark Green Sea

I draw east to Mount Jieshi
to behold the dark green sea,
water spreading vast and calm.
Craggy islands surge and loom,
wooded thick with tree and brush;
vast grasslands stirring, lush,
ruffled by soughing autumn winds.
Breakers rise and smash and foam—
the paths of both the sun and moon
seem to spiral from those waves:
the luminescent Milky Way
seems churned within those depths.
What fortune, ah! what joy,
to be singing here my own song.

—Translated by David Bowles
April 10, 2014

观沧海

东临碣石,
以观沧海。
水何澹澹,
山岛竦峙。
树木丛生,
百草丰茂。
秋风萧瑟,
洪波涌起。
日月之行,
若出其中;
星汉灿烂,
若出其里。
幸甚至哉,
歌以咏志。

Guān Cāng Hǎi

Dōng lín jíe shí,
Yǐ guān cāng hǎi.
Shūi hé dān dān,
Shān dǎo sǒng zhì.
Shū mù cōng shēng,
Bǎi cāo fēng mào.
Qiū fēng xiáo sè,
Hōng bó yǒng qǐ.
Rī yùe zhī xíng,
Rūo chū qí zhōng;
Xíng hàn càn làn,
Rūo chū qī lǐ
Xìng shèn zhī zāi,
Gé yǐ yōng zhì.

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