The "Three Caos'" poetry

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Unread postby Tianshan Zi » Fri Jun 20, 2003 8:21 pm

Lady Wu wrote:Here's Cao Cao. Different from everything you'd associate with him. This is a fantasy poem, describing a fantastical encounter with immortal beings during a trip to the skies. The title has nothing to do with the poem; probably it's the name of a poetic style.


Isn't Cao Cao such an interesting character? Just as you think you have a handle on this ruthless, idealistic politician who's probably sensitive to the people's distress deep down, he comes up with a fantasy poem. :?

Again, I have to say that of all the poetry of the Three Caos, I am most partial to that of Cao Cao. Although his work also employs traditional and contemporary poetic conventions, his usage is so much more original that that of the other Caos. Although all the poems that you've presented so far are "personal," Cao Cao's works are the only ones that really give us a glimpse of the poet's personality (although this is, of course, a flaw in literary criticism). Perhaps, it is because his poems are so diverse when compared to the work of the other Caos?
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Unread postby Lady Wu » Sat Jun 21, 2003 3:55 am

Judging just by content, I think Cao Cao is the most original writer, too. Perhaps that's because he had a far wider range of personal experiences than his sons, who grew up in a relatively more sheltered environment. Of the 13 poems in my collection, two describe his "ideal government", two about current events, two on the grim realities of war, one fantastical work, and the others (translated in SGYY) on his personal ambitions and feelings. In all those poems, it feels like he knows what he's talking about, and can express that in succint language. I see a lot of interior struggles in this man -- the ruthless warlord heaves sighs for the distress of the people; and the pragmaticist has a secret belief in immortals.

The theme of the majority of Cao Zhi's poetry seems to be around the distress of being mistrusted by those in power, of not having one's talents employed, and of being separated from one's friends. That, of course, was the majority of his experiences in his 41-year long life. His stuff on ambition, political ideals, etc, seem quite naive (you can't blame him; he hasn't ever had power). (Cao Zhi on this board could probably correct me on this.)

Cao Pi wrote some political poetry (persuading talented men to come forth for office), some satirical stuff (against belief in immortals), and the bulk of his output seem to be boy-missing-girl, girl-missing-boy stuff -- which, to his credit, is really excellent and moves me more than poetry in the same genre by other people. However, I have a feeling that it's not based on first-hand experience (how can he be lovesick when he's got Lady Zhen already? :lol: ).

So yeah, Cao Cao's poetry paints an author of more complexity than that of Mengde's kids.

I don't know whether the sampling of poems that I've translated are representational, since they are selections from a book of "Selected Poetry of the Cao's, Father and Sons", which contain 13 of Cao Cao's, 23 of Cao Pi's, and 53 of Cao Zhi's. Cao Zhi's poetry made the most direct impact on the history of Chinese poetry (unfortunately it's hard to see that throught the translations since the original stylistics are gone :( ), and I guess that's why his works have been most carefully kept (I have a copy of Cao Zhi's "Complete Works", but am not aware of "Complete Works" of Cao Cao or Cao Pi). Besides, I choose a poem to translate by whether I feel inspired enough by it, rather than whether it completes the bigger picture.
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Unread postby Lady Wu » Tue Sep 16, 2003 4:14 am

Time for more Cao Zhi! :D

The white horse

A snow-white steed in golden bridles
Northwestwardly is galloping.
Whose son be this, that rides so swift?
-- A gallant lad from the You and Bing.
As just a boy he left his home,
on the desert’s edge made his name be heard;
Never without his bow he’s seen
Nor his quivers full around him gird.
His bow he draws, the left target he hits,
When he shoots from the right the Yuezhi(1) is shattered.
The Flying Monkey(2) he takes while reaching up,
And bending low, the Horse-hooves(3) are scattered
More agile than apes this young man was
nor cougars rival his bravery.

Alarms resound from the frontier forts
Barbarian rides cross o’er the plains.
A feathered notice(4) arrives from the north.
I race upon the hill, snapping the reins.
Lo! There I’d ride to trample over the Huns
and turning back, bring the Xianbei to heels;

To the swords and spears I’d cast myself –
No concern I’d have for my own life.
My father and mother I must neglect
Let alone my sons or even my wife!
When one’s name is inscribed in the book of braves,
He cannot to his own private matters tend.
But I’d give my life, the kingdom’s honour to defend;
Death I view lightly, as homecoming at the end.

(1) Yuezhi: a type of archery target
(2) Flying Monkey: a type of moving target
(3) Horse-hooves: a type of moving target
(4) Feathered notice: messages for urgent delivery were marked by feathers on the envelope
Translator's note: I can't figure out the rhyme in the middle section for the life of me, so if anyone can help out, that'd be awesome!
Last edited by Lady Wu on Mon Sep 29, 2003 5:23 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Unread postby Lady Wu » Wed Sep 17, 2003 4:55 am

One of Cao Cao's earliest poems, expressing his ambitions for bring about a peaceful, orderly world. The original Chinese is also of uneven lines and funky rhyming (in fact, I can't figure out what the rhyme scheme is!), which suggests that this really was a song that he sung to his wine... :roll:

What's most interesting is that this song/poem reflects Cao Cao's pragmatism and willingness to use whatever's best out of each school of philosophical thought. For example, the business about having "nine years of stores" is a prerequisite for good administration in the Book of Rites (Li Ji), a pre-Confucian classic. Mencius was the one who said that "the white-haired (the elderly) shall not be seen carrying loads on the streets", and the "retract the steeds from the highways" part is from Lao Tzu/Zi (a "Taoist" classic!), who proposes that in the perfect world, people would be satisfied with where they are and have no need to travel, thus stallions would be used in the fields instead.

To my wine

To my wine I sing
of the times of peace,
when officers shall not make calls at the door.
The ruler is bright and virtuous,
His ministers loyal and trustworthy.
Abiding by propriety and courtesy,
The people have no cause for lawsuits.

From three years of farming, nine years of stores,
The granaries overflow with grains --
While those of white hair have no need to labour.
Rainfall is abundant and of proper time,
The myriad of crops a great harvest yields.
From the highways are pulled back mighty steeds,
Their manure used to fertilize the fields.

From dukes down to viscounts,
all love the common people,
demoting the unworthy, raising up the good --
As fathers and brothers they nurture the people.
Those who defy the law
are punished according to the severity;
though none is so selfish as to take roadside property.
The jails are all empty,
and on Solstice day no sentences are pronounced.

All live to eighty or ninety,
and pass away only of old age.
The ruler’s compassion touches all creatures equally.
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Unread postby Tianshan Zi » Wed Sep 24, 2003 12:40 am

I wonder when he wrote this poem. Was it after he assumed much of his power? I ask, because much of it could have been deemed seditious by the court. :?
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Unread postby Lady Wu » Wed Sep 24, 2003 1:46 am

Tianshan Zi wrote:I wonder when he wrote this poem. Was it after he assumed much of his power? I ask, because much of it could have been deemed seditious by the court. :?

I've seen anthologies dating this around 184AD, when he was still magistrate of Ji'nan. I guess it's pretty blatantly ambitious in an unstable political scene, eh? However, the rationale behind dating it that early is that the administrative ideals sketched are pretty idealistic and almost naive (in the Confucian tradition). It's hard to see him writing stuff like this after he secured the north.

I wonder what would have happened if, say, Dong Zhuo got a hold of this poem... :P
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Unread postby Lady Wu » Mon Nov 03, 2003 8:35 am

This rather long 7-part poem was composed by Cao Zhi in AD 223. As he writes in the preface, Cao Pi had summoned all his brother-lords to the capital for the seasonal sacrifice. That was the fateful season when Cao Zhang died under mysterious circumstances. When the time to leave came, even though Cao Zhi and Cao Biao's fiefs were both east of the capital city, Cao Pi prohibited them from travelling together. Furthermore, under Cao Pi's stringent laws against fief-lords from communicating with each over, Cao Zhi knew that he would never see Cao Biao again. Probably it never hit home more than at this occasion, the shortness of life, the unpredicability of fate (and the court), and the loss of fraternal support.

I will post notes on the actual verse later. I'm still working on polishing sections of the translation...
To Biao, Prince of Baima

In the fifth month of the fourth year in the Huangchu reign (AD223), the Prince of Baima [Cao Biao], the Prince of Rencheng [Cao Zhang], and I all went to pay homage to the Emperor in the Capital city, on the occasion of the seasonal sacrifice. While we were in Luoyang, the Prince of Rencheng passed away. In the seventh month, the Prince of Baima and I were to return to our respective fiefs. Later, I got very angry with the officers who maintained that two princes returning to their fiefs should not travel together. Since our eternal parting will come in a few days, I write this in a passion, to reveal my heart and to bid farewell to you, my prince.

I.      After homage paid to the lord on high,
     We make ready to return to our given fiefs.
     At dawn we leave th' imperial grounds,
     By dusk we reach the Shouyang hills.
     How wide and deep the Yi and Luo(1)!
     Would we to cross, but no bridge is found.
     So we take a boat through the mighty waves,
     Resenting the length of the east-bound road.
     Turning back, I try to spot the city walls,
     Straining my neck to see that which pains my thoughts.

II.   How expansive, how wide the Great Valley!
     And how dark and dense the mountains be!
     Torrential rain turns my path to mud,
     Flowing waters criss-cross the land.
     The carts would go, but for the rut washed out,
     So we change our route and climb the hills,
     Building a boardwalk reaching the clouds,
     While my horse from fatigue became sick and pale.

III.  Sick and pale he may still go,
     But sorrowful thoughts hold me still mid-way.
     Sorrowful and sighing, what am I thinking of?
     Only that my kin must live afar.
     Though we planned to take the path together,
     Suddenly we are broken, forced asunder(2).
     On the carriage cries the kite(3) a threatening note,
     While jcakals unhindered roam the city roads.
     Wretched flies turn white to black,
     Slandering words break the family apart.
     I wish to return, but the path is no more.
     I hold my reins, lingering there long.

IV.   Long may I linger, wherefore, wherefore?
     Forever I may stay in reminiscence.
     Autumnal winds blow a chilly note,
     At my side sounds the winter cicada.
     How empty the plains, how bare they are,
     As the sun, unnoticed, retires to the west.
     Flocks of birds return to the dense forests,
     Flapping, flapping, they hasten their wings.
     The stray beast rushes to seek its pack,
     Food in its jaws, forgetting to eat.
     The sight of these stir up my feelings.
     I touch my heart, heaving a long sigh.

V.     A long sigh heaved does naught to change
     Contrary Heaven, defiant fate.
     Alas for the one from the same womb as I(4)!
     He is now gone, never coming back.
     His lonely spirit soars away back home,
     As his coffin lies in waiting at the Capital.
     We living ones too, will pass, quickly,
     While the body of the dead returns to dust.
     How brief is our life in this mortal world,
     Like the morning dew, gone with the rising sun.
     But our own sun's setting in the mulberry bush –-
     Who can bid the shadow, “return to me”?
     Nor metal nor stone are we to last --
     Alas! alas! How grieves my heart!

VI.   The grieving heart frustrates my mind,
     So leave this thought, speak no more of it!
     A man’s mind girds the whole wide world,
     All in the realm his neighbours be.
     Our love shall not diminish with the passing years,
     But absence does make the heart grow fond.
     No need to share the same bed have we
     Before we show our fraternal love.
     To let one’s sorrow bring illness on,
     Shows no more mettle than an impetuous youth.
     Though – so close as we, yet soon must part --
     Can I be not bitter? Or anguish fill my heart?

VII.  Bitterness and anguish do fill my thoughts --
     Does Heaven plan the best for men?
     Futile are appeals to th' immortal lands,
     Chisong’s(5) words have me long deceived.
     Disaster looms, changes are imminent,
     Who can keep their lives for the granted span?
     We part now, never to meet again,
     Would we hold hands and talk once more!
     My prince, take good care of your precious self,
     That we may both enjoy our golden years.
     Holding back my tears to take the road ahead,
     I leave my pen now, bidding you farewell.
Last edited by Lady Wu on Tue Nov 11, 2003 10:30 pm, edited 3 times in total.
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Unread postby Lady Wu » Tue Nov 04, 2003 2:52 am

Notes to "To Biao, Prince of Baima":
- The original Chinese is in 5-syllable lines, with even-number lines in each section rhyming to a particular syllable. The first four lines:
Ye di cheng ming lu, xi jiang fan jiu jiang.
Qing chen fa huang yi, ri xi guo shou yang.
"see emperor visit Bright Hall, now ready return old fief
bright morning leave imperial city, sun setting pass-by Shouyang"

- The translation given here matches the meaning of the original sentence-by-sentence, but the rhyme scheme is not kept.

- In the original, two words from the last line of each section is echoed in the first line of the next section (retained in the translation). Except in sections 1 and 2. Furthermore, while each section has a different rhyme, 1 and 2 share the same -ang rhyme. This has led many scholars to propose that 1 and 2 actually are meant to be one section, and the whole poem is divided into 6 and not 7. However, I'm following the traditional sectioning.

(1) Yi and Luo: Rivers near Luoyang.
(2) The lords were not prohibited from travelling together at the time they left the capital city. However, soon after they left, Cao Pi sent an edict forbidding the princes from going together, which prompted this angry response from Cao Zhi.
(3) A kind of owl is associated with wickedness. The owl here, the cougars in the next sentence, and the flies after that all refer to the slandering courtiers who persuaded Cao Pi from distancing his brothers.
(4) i.e. Cao Zhang.
(5) Chisong: an immortal. See Cao Cao's Mo Shang Sang above.
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Unread postby Cao Zhi » Wed Mar 03, 2004 8:43 am

Oh my goodness, this is such wonderful stuff.

Here is a Cao Zhi piece. The Spirit of the Luo River as written in Hugh Dunn's Cao Zhi: The Life of a Princely Chinese Poet (p. 24-9, New World Press, Beijing, PRC, 1983) The poem was written between 221 and 222. Lady Zhen died in 221, so there is a very tragic possibility that the poem might have been partially inspired by her death.

Have a box of tissues next to you when you read this :cry:


Spirit of the Luo River

Leaving the capital, returning to the East,
I passed Yi Que and climbed Huan Yuan,
Went through Tong Gorge and up Mount Jing.
As the sun sank low, I grew chariot-weary and my horses spent.

Stopping by the river, I fed them where rare herbs grew
And strolled in a willow grove to gaze at the stream.
My soul was moved, my spirit troubled, and sudden thoughts ran wild!

Below me I saw nothing, but, looking across,
I saw a lovely woman on the other craggy shore.
I called my coachman, told him and said:
"Did you behold her? Who was she, so fair as that?"
My coachman replied:
"They say the river spirit is called Mi Fei;
Was it not she Your Highness has seen?
What was she like? I should like to hear."
I told him:
"She seemed -
To flutter like a swan alarmed - lithe as a wandering dragon,
Bright as an autumn chrysanthemum, fair as a pine in spring.
She looked like the moon half-hidden in light clouds -
As if breeze-borne - like snow whirled in the streaming wind.
Far off I beheld her - bright as the sun in morning mists;
Nearer I saw her - like a lotus glowing on green waves.
Perfect in figure, perfect in height,
Finely-formed shoulders, waist as if silk-bound,
A graceful neck, a lovely neck, its fair skin showing -
Cosmetics were needless and powder unused!
Cloudy hair set high - brows that met in long curves -
Red lips most vivid, white teeth ashine,
Bright eyes gleaming, cheeks so shapely -
Gaily beautiful, exquisite, sedate.
Calm in her movements, unhurried in person,
Mild-natured, gentle-mannered, charming in speech,
Excelling all in this empty world - a picture to see.
Her clothes were filmy and of splendid hues;
Delicate jade adorned her ears
And gold and kingfisher pins her hair.
Her dress was all emroidered with pearls
And on her feet were "far-wandering" shoes.
Trailing her light skirt of misty silk
She surpassed the fragrant beauty of dark orchids
As she wandered on the hillside.
Quickly, happily, she roamed at her pleasure
Leaning on rainbows
And shaded by flowers.
Baring white wrists on that fairy shore
She plucked mystic plants at the torrent's edge.

My soul took delight in her fair beauty -
My wild-beating heart could not be calmed!
But lacking a match-maker to join us in happiness
I asked the wavelets to carry my words.
Wanting my wishes to be known to her quickly
I held up my jade seals to seek to attract her -
Beauteous pledges to give to her beauty.
Polite as the maiden reknowned in the Songs
She lifted her jewels in response to my move,
Pointed down to the water and waited my words.
But I, with this firm reply in my reach,
Feared lest the spirit might yet deceive me.
I was stirred by Jiao Fu's words ofr farewell
And stood in two minds, dissapointed yet happy.
Hiding emotions, I stilled my desire -
Thought of propriety, was cautious, held back.

Thereupon -
The Luo River Spirit was stirred and moved restlessly,
Her radiance fitful, now like day, now like night.
Her light form stood posied like a bird
Wishing to fly but not yet on the wing.
She trod underfoot the fairest of flowers
And trampled thin stems which poured forth their scent
She gave a great cry of eternal devotion -
A sound that was desolate, passionate, long.
At this there came
A crowd of spirits, a motley throng!
She called to her comrades, cried to her friends
Who played in the torrent and o'erflew fairy isles
Gathering pearls and kingfisher plumes.

There came the two maids from the southern Xiang
Hand in hand with the girl who roams the Han shore.
They lamented her "bitter fruit" as she "had no mate"
And sang of the Herdboy star dwelling alone.
They swung their soft jackets, gently, voluptuously,
Making fans of gay sleeves, ith slow movements and pauses.
Then their mood quickened - like wild geese flying,
Borne on the breeze, with a sudden like sprites!
Lightly they walked over hillocks and ripples
Their gauzy silk slippers stirring the dust.
Their movements kept changing, sometimes stiff, sometimes fluid,
As they drew nearer or stopped without any fixed plan -
Retreating, returning, their eyes full of meaning
Shining and elegant, an exquisite sight.
Restrained in voice, fragrant as flowers,
Their beauty enchanted me. I forgot I was hungry.

The Rainmaster stilled the wind, the River Queen calmed the waves,
The Count of the river drummed, and clearly sang Nu Wa.
There came prancing hooves and an awesome chariot
Ringing jade phoenix bells, to take her to the dead.
Six fearsome dragons, their heads in line,
Bore on high the graceful cloud chariot -
Huge fishes lept by the wheels as it came
And water birds soards around it as guards.
As they passed across the isle to the north,
And the colour faded from the hills to the south,
She looked back with a clear gaze
And her red lips spoke slow words
About the great net of our intermeshed lives:
"How sad that men's and spirits' ways must differ -
I grieve that our flourishing years did not match!"
She raised a gauze sleeve to brush away tears
Which wet the flowing flods of her coat.
"My soul is wounded - such happy meetings are not for me.
I mourn that once parted wth shall live apart.
My feelings are strong - I give you my love
And give you too these bright rings from Jiangnan.
Although I go to live in the deepest shade
My thoughts will dwell on my lord and prince.
Suddenly I no longer see where I go -
Sad at heart I rise, and my light goes dim."

At this,
Turning her back on all below she rose out of sight.
Her footprints faded - but her soul remained
After she went to the spirits' resting place.
Left to my feelings, I remembered her form
And gazed all around with a mournful heart
Hoping the spirit body would again take shape.

I took a small boat and went upstream;
Moving slow on the long river I forgot to turn back.
Full of tortuous thoughts ever more tangled,
My mind in turmoil, at night I could not sleep.

When dawn came coated in heavy frost,
I ordered my coachman to make ready the chariot
And prepared to return to the road to the East.
I took up the reins and grasped the whip -
But sad and irresolute, I could not leave.
"To the meaningless French idealisms of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity, we oppose the German realisms of Infantry, Cavalry, and Artillery."
- Prince Bernhard von Bulow, German Chancellor 1900-09 (attrib.)
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Unread postby Tyler » Fri Oct 15, 2004 5:50 pm

Here is yet another by Cao Zhi.

Shrimps and Eels


The shrimps and eels which linger in the mud,
Do not know how the seas and river flood.
How can sparrows which hop about the hedge,
Understand the flight of swans in full fledge?
With this idea rooted deep in mind,
You’ll tower over others of your kind.
If you ride to the top of the Five Mounts,
You’ll find that other mountains do not count.
Those profit-seekers, on the other hand,
Covet the wealth and power of the land.
To serve the kingdom is my lofty yearning;
To quell the country is my heartfelt burning.
When I touch my sword, it roars like thunder;
When I wave my sword, it flashes with wonder.
For those who crave beyond what wishes ban,
How can they understand the upright man?
Last edited by Tyler on Fri Oct 15, 2004 11:10 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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