Watching the Ocean [Translation Work]

By Cao Cao (155 – 220)

Upon the eastern rocky cliffs,

I come to watch the boundless ocean.

Rhythmical, the water dances.

Still, the islands stand.

Peak to peak,

lush of diverse grass and trees;

 Waves after waves,

trace the solemn autumn breeze.

The sun and the moon for every day and night,

               As if the ocean is where they reside.

The milky way with stars shining high,

               As if the depth is where they hide.

Pleased I am watching this sight,

               I sing in sheer delight!

207 CE

Translation by FW, February 2019.

Original Text with Standard Pinyin Pronunciation Guide by Line.

观沧海 Guān Cānghǎi

曹操 Cáo Cāo

东临碣石,以观沧海。Dōnglín jiéshí, yǐ guān cānghǎi。

水何澹澹,山岛竦峙。Shuǐ hé dàndàn, shāndǎo sǒngzhì。

树木丛生,百草丰茂。shùmù cóngshēng, bǎicǎo fēngmào。

秋风萧瑟,洪波涌起。qiūfēng xiāosè, hóngbō yǒngqǐ。

日月之行,若出其中。rìyuè zhīxíng, ruò chū qízhōng。

星汉灿烂,若出其里。xīnghàn cànlàn, ruò chū qílǐ。

幸甚至哉,歌以咏志。xìng shèn zhì zāi,gē yǐ yǒngzhì。

Ever since learning about it in grade 7, this piece’s given me some lasting impact. I sang about it too, with self-conjured melody as I vaguely recall.

The significance maybe not necessarily the geographics — It was certainly interesting, though. Then a warlord, Cao Cao wrote this near today’s Hebei or Shandong Prov, and over the sea lies either the Liaodong or the Korean Peninsula — depending on where exactly he was). I grew up watching pretty much the same body of water that he sang about while commanding his northbound armies, over eighteen centuries ago.

What intrigued me more was the picture he described. That the ocean was one with the constellations and could inundate the sun was poetic and ambitious. Maybe our modern pictures will make that seem rather elementary, but I believe it is the same thought that persists across history. In the midst of fleeting life, one thought about his place in and relationship to the universe. I hope I can keep doing the same.

This particular translation effort was catalyzed by the upcoming Chinese science-fiction, The Wandering Earth. The novel it was based on were among my favourites, and they incorporated this classical poem into their theme song.

A quick bio of Cao Cao:

Learn more about The Wandering Earth:

Back to QFT we go 🙂

I mean I go.