Blue sea, Red Cliffs, pale blue dot

滄海の一粟
(Soukai no ichizoku; “A single grain of millet in the deep blue sea”)

Definition:

Something incredibly small in the middle of something something incredibly big. A needle in a haycontinent. Metaphorically, the trifling, ephemeral existence of humans within the universe.

Breakdown:

This week we have another two-part noun phrase. The associative particle の (no) connects number-noun 一粟 (ichizoku), “one (grain of) millet,” to 滄海 (soukai), “blue sea.” And that’s all you need!

Notes:

This comes from Song Dynasty superstar Su Shi (蘇軾, Japanese So Shoku)’s rhymed prose piece “Former Ode on the Red Cliffs” (前赤壁賦, Japanese Zen sekiheki no fu).

In some versions, 滄 may be replaced by homophone 蒼 without any change in meaning. In others, 滄海 may become the more prosaic 大海 (taikai), “big ocean.” A slightly further variation takes this to 大海の一滴 (taikai no itteki), “a drop in the (big) ocean.”

Example sentence:

「宇宙の写真を見ると、綺麗だけど、人類はただの滄海の一粟なんだと思えてたまらなく鬱陶しくなる」

(“Uchuu no shashin wo miru to, kirei da kedo, jinrui wa tada no soukai no ichizoku nanda to omoete tamaranaku uttoushiku naru.”)

[“When I see pictures of space, they’re beautiful, but it reminds me of how humanity is just a tiny speck in a vast sea, which is unbearably depressing.”]

About Confanity

I love the written word more than anything else I've had the chance to work with. I'm back in the States from Japan for grad school, but still studying Japanese with the hope of becoming a translator -- or writer, or even teacher -- as long as it's something language-related.
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