The Quatrain of Seven Steps

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The Seven Steps Verse, also known as the Quatrain of Seven Steps (traditional Chinese: 七步詩; simplified Chinese: 七步诗; pinyin: Qi1 Bu4 Shi1), is a highly allegorical poem that is usually attributed to the poet Cao Zhi. The poem's first appeared in the classic text Shishuo Xinyu, published in 430. The famed scene (79th hui) describes Cao Pi's suspicions of his brother Cao Zhi trying to usurp his rule (Cao Pi was also jealous of his brother's talents, particularly his masterful command of imagery). Consequently, Cao Zhi is summoned to the court and is issued an ultimatum in which he must produce a poem within seven strides such that Cao Pi is convinced of his innocence. Cao Zhi does so, and Cao Pi becomes so flustered with emotion that he spares his brother, although he later exacts punishment upon Cao Zhi in the form of demotion. The poem itself is written in the traditional five-character quatrain style and is an extended metaphor that describes the relationship of two brothers and the ill-conceived notion of one harming the other over petty squabbling.

There exists two versions of the poem, one being six lines in length and the other four. The former is generally thought to be original; however, the "燃" character that is (often) used in the former generates confusion over its authenticity. Additionally, the purported original verse includes two extra (redundant or otherwise superfluous) lines, which serves the purpose of parallelism but does not add any additional meaning already conveyed (within the scope of its original use).

Version 1[edit]

Chinese Pinyin
煮豆燃豆萁 zhǔ dòu rán dòu qí
漉菽以為汁 lù shú yǐ wéi zhì
萁在釜下燃 qí zài fǔ xià rán
豆在釜中泣 dòu zài fǔ zhōng qì
本自同根生 běn zì tóng gēn shēng
相煎何太急 xiāng jiān hé tài jì

People burn the beanstalk to boil beans,
filtering them to extract juice.
The beanstalks were burnt under the cauldron,
and the beans in the cauldron wailed:
"We were originally grown from the same root;
Why should we hound each other to death with such impatience?"

Version 2[edit]

Chinese Pinyin
煮豆燃豆萁 zhǔ dòu rán dòu qí
豆在釜中泣 dòu zài fǔ zhōng qì
本是同根生 běn shì tóng gēn shēng
相煎何太急? xiāng jiān hé tài jí

People burn the beanstalk to boil beans,
The beans in the pot cry out.
We are born of the selfsame root,
Why should we hound each other to death with such impatience?"

The translation for this version is more or less the same, with the notable exception of the condensing of the first three lines into one: Boiling the beans while charring the stalks...

Note: Cao Zhi uses several characters to describe the various processes of cooking and refining beans. Among those mentioned are: 煮 (boil), 漉 (filter), 燃 (skewer or char), 泣 (a pun on 蒸汽 "steam", the qì here actually means "to cry"), and 煎 (to pan-fry using oil).

See also[edit]