"The Sea", a poet by Cao Cao
110 X 70 cm in Clerical Script (隸書)
This poem is composed by Cao Cao (曹操) in 207 AD as a part of his four-part poem collection Steps through the Illustrious Gate (步出夏門行) after he successfully conquered Northeastern parts of China (1)(2) . Cao Cao is a renowned warlord in the the Three Dynasty Period of China (三國時代), but not many know that he was also actually a poet. One of his sons, Cao Zhi (曹植), was also a renowned poet.
|東臨碣石，以觀滄海。||As I conquered the east and climbed the Jieshi mountain, I watched the boundless ocean.|
|水何澹澹，山島竦峙。||Waters were so vast, with islands standing amids the waves.|
|樹木藂生，百草豐茂。||Trees were abundant, and grass was luxuriant.|
|秋風蕭瑟，洪波湧起。||Autumn winds blew cold and bleak against the trees, making gigantic billows on the ocean.|
The rise and set of the Moon and the Sun appeared to emerge from the embrace of this enormous sea;
|星漢粲爛，若出其裏。||and even all the bright and brilliant stars in the sky seemed to be given life and birth by this endless ocean.|
|幸甚至哉！歌以詠志。||I felt so ecstatic to see this sight! So I wrote this poem to express my mind (aspiration).|
|(translated by KS Vincent Poon, Oct . 2015; revised April. 2017)|
In this poem, Cao Cao implicitly expressed his great aspiration in uniting China under his rule; the bleak and cold autumn winds (the chaos of his time) will not deter his immense determination -- so immense that it can give rise to the Moon, the Sun and even all the stars.
Unfortunately, his unification ambition did not succeed as he suffered great lost in the Battle of Red Cliffs (赤壁之戰) in 208 AD to two other warlords of his time, Liu Bei (劉備) and Sun Quan (孫權).
It is interesting to note that the poem is written one year before Cao Cao's major defeat in the Battle of Red Cliffs. "Conceited armies always lose their battles" (驕兵必敗); Cao Cao was so proud of himself in conquering the North that he thought his dream of unifying the rest of China was unstoppable and inevitable. Alas, his extreme pride failed him, and his story serves as a reminder to us that we should all take caution and be even more humble and meticulous when we are successful or at the top. Napoleon is another prime example of how arrogance can led to a man's downfall.
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