An Ode on the Red Cliff

Su Shi was a government official and one of the most respected poet of the Northern Song dynasty in China, twice exiled for his criticisms of imperial policy. In 1082, he pondered about mortality and change at the Red Cliff, the place where General Cao Cao was defeated by his enemies 800 years earlier, expressed in his immortal Former Ode on the Red Cliff.

He first realized the insignificance of human beings in comparison with nature:

Mayflies visiting between heaven and earth, infinitesimal grains in the vast sea, mourning the passing of our instant of life, envying the long river which never ends

But then, he considered the matter from a relativism perspective that both an individual and nature can be constantly changeable and immortal:

Have you really understood the water and the moon? The one streams past so swiftly yet is never gone; the other for ever waxes and wanes yet finally has never grown nor diminished. For if you look at the aspect which changes, heaven and earth cannot last for one blink; but if you look at the aspect which is changeless, the worlds within and outside you are both inexhaustible, and what reasons have you to envy anything?