Translation: Su Shi's poem 'Red Cliff Meditation' 赤壁懷古

February 28, 2014
China Business Intelligence

A number of readers have asked me to post my translation of Su Shi's (Su Dongpo's) 'Red Cliff Meditation' - 赤壁懷古.

It is not as elegant as others, but it is fairly literal.  I've tried to put in brackets the ideas not literally in the poem.  A better tranlsation might be Professor Stephen Owen's - which he calls ' “The Charms of Nian-nu”: Meditation on the Past at Red Cliff' - it is available in his "Anthology of Chinese Literature, W.W. Norton Co., New York, 1996, pp. 579-580.


 [sung to the tune of 念奴嬌  - “Do Not Forget Exquisite Little Me”

Su Shi 蘇軾  

(Written some time after the day after the full moon of the seventh month in the Ren Xu year,  August 12, 1082.)


The Great River eastward goes, 大江東去

its waves rinse clean 浪淘盡

a thousand years of celebrities. 千古風流人物

Westward of a bygone fortress,故壘西邊

folk suppose, 人道是

lie the Three Kingdoms and Duke Zhou’s “Red Cliff.”  三國周郎赤壁


[There,] confusions of rock collapse in clouds,  亂石崩雲

jarring breakers split the riverbanks   驚濤裂岸

scrolling up a thousand piles of snow   捲起千堆雪

River and mountain are as in a painting.   江山如畫


That one [instant of] time, so many towering men,  一時多少豪傑

 [my mind] drifts back to that very year Duke Zhou  遙想公瑾 當年

wed princess Qiao, 小喬初嫁了

[his] courage erupting in bravado, 雄姿英發

his feathered fan and ducal headdress, 羽扇綸巾

amidst banter and laughter, [and then,] 談笑間

[great walls] of high-masted galleys, in flying ash and smoke, destroyed. 檣臚灰飛煙滅


A [mere] spirit-visit to an ancient land, 古國神遊

so maudlin one ought to laugh at me, 多情應笑我

[my] hair already greying. 早生華髮

Amidst men, it is as in a dream.  人間如夢

One winecup offered up to the River’s moon.一尊還酹江月


(Translation by John J. Tkacik)




For more information

For more information or to schedule a speaking engagement, please use our Contact form.

Mailing Address:
1307 Westgrove Blvd.
Alexandria, Virginia 22307

Phone Number: