My First Visit to the Red Cliff

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It was the sixteenth of the seventh lunar month, in the autumn of the year Ren Xu (1082),

I, Su Shi, went boating with my friends along the foot of the Red Cliff.

A fresh breeze was blowing, too gentle to ripple the water.

Raising my cup, I toasted my friends, and chanted the verse on the “Bright Moon” from Shijing [Book of Odes/ Classic of Poetry].

A bit later, the moon rose from behind the eastern mountain and began to roam between the Southern Dipper and the Altair.

White mist heaped up across the river, and the moonlight stretched far into the horizon to merge with the hues of the sky.

Our boat drifted on a boundless expanse of water like a piece of reed.

It was so vast that we felt as if we were riding in the wind, not knowing when to come to a halt.

We felt so ethereal as if we were ascending into heaven and becoming winged immortals.

Feeling exhilarated, we drank wine, tapped the side of the boat and sang the following song:

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Oars of laurel and rudder of orchid, shoot swiftly through the glittering wave. My heart within grows sadly grave, longing for my dear one [implied meaning: the emperor] under a different sky.

A friend accompanied my words upon his vertical bamboo flute [Dong Xiao], delicately adjusting the notes to express the varied emotions of pity and regret without slightest break in the thread of sound which seemed to wind around us like a silken skein, which could entice a dragon perching in the deep abyss to rise and dance, or make a widow burst into a flood of tears on a solitary boat.

Sitting up, I asked the player in a serious tone, “why was your music so melancholic?”

He replied, “The moon is bright, the stars are sparse, and the crows are southward bound. Isn’t this a scene described in Cao Mengde’s poem? The place we have now reached faces Xiakou to the West and Wuchang to the East…”


* These paragraphs were cited from the ode “My First Visit to the Red Cliff,” was created by Su Shi (pen name “Dongpo,” a scholar and demoted government official in the Song Dynasty of China). He had made his first trip near Red Cliff with his friends on the 16th of the 7th lunar month of the year Ren Xu (1082). He recalled the Battle of Red Cliff in AD 208 and wrote about his philosophical views upon the rise and fall of great historical figures and the brevity of life.

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