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Return to: Three Kingdoms Poetry
Translator Notes in Blue
Author: Cao Cao
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 the elderly 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 (1) no sentences are pronounced.
1: During the Han dynasty, sentences for criminals were pronounced on Winter Solstice.
All live to eighty or ninety,
and pass away only of old age.
The ruler’s compassion touches all creatures equally.
Author: Cao Cao
2: Originally the tune for a dirge song.
Gallant men there were, from the Eastern lands,
rallying against the nefarious ones.
At Mengjin, where the last Alliance met (3),
to free the Capital from the evil shroud.
3: Referring to the alliance led by the ruler of the Zhou state that eventually overthrew the Shang dynasty (circa 1066 BD).
Though their forces were one, their minds
divided; hesitant they marched
like geese leaderless.
And not long after,
among themselves; for profit they sought.
4: i.e. Yuan Shu.
5: i.e. Yuan Shao, who carved an imperial seal planning to make Liu Yu emperor instead.
When last did armour leave the soldiers’ frames?
Lice and fleas infest the long-worn metal.
From a myriad families people are lost
to untimely death, while
sun-blanched bones lie bare in fields
abandoned, nor a cock-crow heard for a thousand li.
Of a hundred men who live here now,
would even one be left
by the morrow?
That very thought breaks my heart with sorrow.
Author: Cao Cao
6: The name of a tune/poetic style.
Driving a rainbow,
Riding crimson clouds,
I ascend the Nine Peaks to the Gates of Jade.
7: The Milky Way is the river separating the immortal and mortal realms in Chinese mythology.
8: Kunlun Mountain: the legendary abode of immortals in the physical world.
9: Chisong: an immortal in Chinese myths.
10: Xianmen: another immortal in myths.
My food’s the immortal’s lingzhi (11),
My drink’s from fragrant springs,
My staff is made of laurel, and on my head an orchid ring.
11: Lingzhi: traditionally considered to be an herb that gives immortality, this mushroom is considered food for the gods. Often known by its Japanese name, reishi.
No mortal affairs or troubles,
No limits to where I go,
As swift as the wind blows in the universe I travel.
Though the shadow has moved not,
A thousand miles I’ve passed –
Ageless as the mountains but forgetting not the past.
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