Boating at the Red Cliff
In the seventhmonth of the year Renxu, when an autumnal full moon was just a little on thewane, I, Su Shi, went boating with my guests in the river near the Red Cliff. Afresh breeze was blowing our way and the waves were utterly calm. I raised mywinecup and toasted my guests, joining them in chanting the Ode to the BrightMoon and the Song of Sylphs. A little later, the moon rose above the easternhills, loitering between the mansions of the Dipper and the Ox. A broad stretchof dewy white lay across the river. The sheen of the waters merged with thehues of the sky. The boat, once set adrift, traversed an immense expanse ofthousands of hectares. What an ecstasy! It was as if we were harnessing thewind, riding through the ethereal vacant space, not knowing when to come to hahalt, while the divine joy was as if we were forsaking the world and becomingwinged deities, ascending to the land of immortals.
Then we drankwine, and feeling exhilarated, tapped the gunwale and sang the song: "O ye oarsof laurel and orchid, strike and pierce ye the lambent and limpid waters, andbrave ye the moon-lit swift currents. Unbounded is my mind, longing for the manin my heart who is beyond the horizon." A Xiao player among the guestsaccompanied the song, which produced a woeful tune, now like someone murmuringand languishing for love, now like someone sobbing and complaining. Thelingering sound was as unbroken as silk, capable of stirring a dragon hidden inan abyss to dance and moving a widow in a solitary boat to weep.
Saddened by themelancholy song, I sat tight and asked the guests, "Why was your music sodisconsolate?"
The guest said,"The moon is bright, the stars are far between, and the crows are southwardbound.' Is this not the poem of Cao Mengde? You see Xiakou in the west andWuchang in the east. The hills and rivers are interlinked and enshrouded in asomber green. Is it not where Cao was besieged by Zhou Yu? At that time, Caotook Jingzhou, seized Jiangling, then sailed eastward down the Yangtze River,with ships in battle array, extending a thousand li, their flags and pennantseclipsing the sunlight. He filled his winecup before the rolling river, andholding his spear in both hands, composed and declaimed his poems. He wasindeed the hero of his time. But where is he now? As for you and me, we merelydo fishing and firewood-cutting in the river and on its islets, associatingwith fish and shrimps, and making friends with reindeer. We row a boat, toasteach other, depositing our ephemeral life in the universe, our being asinfinitely small as a grain in the ocean. Lamenting our fleeting existence andenvying the everlasting Yangtze River, I wish I could travel with fairies inheaven and hold the bright moon in my arms through eternity. Yet I know thiscannot so soon come true, I can but charge the sad autumn wind to be thevehicle of my plaintive music."
I said, "Haveyou ever speculated upon the river and the moon? Though the former runs withoutcease, it remains there forever. Though the latter waxes and wanes, it neverincreases or diminishes. If it is viewed from the angle of change, the universecan hardly be the same for a moment. However, when seen from the angle ofconstancy, then everything and we ourselves are blessed with immortality. Whatcould so much deserve our envy? Besides, all things under heaven have theirseparate owners. If a thing does not belong to me, not even a mite of it shouldbe taken as mine. Only the refreshing breeze on the river and the bright moonover the hills, which generate in our ears a pleasant sound and in our eyes adreamy colour, are inexhaustible and can be freely enjoyed. They are animmeasurable treasure granted to us by our Creator as a grace, for our commonhappiness."
My guests weregladdened and smiled. Having cleaned the winecups, we renewed our drinking. Thedishes, fruits and tidbits were all consumed. The trays, plates and drinkingvessels were scattered in confusion. We slept close to each other in the boat,unaware that it was dawning in the east.