아리랑, 아리랑, 아라리요 Arirang, arirang, arariyo.
아리랑 고개로 넘어간다   Arirang, crossing over the hill,
나를 버리고 가시는 님은  My dear who has abandoned and left me
십리도 못가서 발병난다   Has not even traveled ten miles before having feet pains.

Introduction

Arirang (아리랑) is the most famous folk song of Korea. In fact, the song is so well-known that it is often described as the unofficial anthem. Yet, despite its popularity, no one seems to sure about what “Arirang” means or even exactly when or where the song first came to be. Indeed, there are hundreds of theories on the etymology of Arirang (語原百說, 어원백설). There are even theories as to the origins of other words that are seemingly benign in the song. This post will cover some of the more accepted, conventional theories that have been studied by Korean scholars on the etymology of the song’s name.

Theories on the Etymology of “Arirang”

1. 閼英(알영) – Al-yeong (Personal Name)

The first theory purports that the song originates from the founding of the Shilla Dynasty (新羅, 신라, 57BC-935). The dynasty’s first king was Bak Hyeokgeose (朴赫居世, 박혁거세, 69BC-4AD, r. 57BC-4AD). His wife’s name was Alyeong (閼英, 알영), which was taken from the name of a nearby well where she was born. She is said to have showed great generosity to farmers and silkworm rearers while traveling around the country. The peasants in gratitude started singing praises about her magnanimity with her name prominently in the lyrics. Over the ages, the word “Alyeong” morphed to “Alliryeong” (알리령) and then finally to “Arirang.”

2. 阿娘(아랑) – A-rang (Personal Name)

Another hypothesis is that the lyrics emerged from 16th-17th century Milyang (密陽, 밀양), where one of the more popular variants of the song comes from. The local folk tale states that there was a lady named Arang (阿娘, 아랑), who was a daughter of the local magistrate. She was kidnapped, but was killed by her captors while fighting them off in an effort to preserve her chastity. The locals in praise and in commiseration with the magistrate created the song. Arang’s name in the song eventually changed to Arirang. There is a shrine to Arang at the Yeongnam Pavilion (嶺南樓, 영남루) in Milyang, but its construction only dates to the 19th century. It should be noted that in contrast to Milyang, the other regions that often claim to be the origin of the song, such as Jindo (珍島, 진도) and Jeongseon (旌善, 정선), do not have a theory as to its etymology.

3. 我離娘(아리랑) or 我離郞(아리랑) – A-ri-rang (“I Part from My Dear”)

This theory proposes that the song dates to 19th century Chosun during the reign of Regent Heungseong (興宣大院君, 흥선대원군, 1829-1898, r. 1863-1873). The Regent is widely remembered as a tyrant who increased burdens on peasants by imposing compulsory labor, forcing families to leave their villages and live apart from one another. As these peasants parted from their families and villages, they expressed their angst in song, crying “A-ri-rang” a phrase coined from Classical Chinese (漢文, 한문). Here, “a” (我, 아) means “I”, “ri” (離, 리) means “to part from”, and “rang” (娘 or 郞, 랑) means either “dear wife” or “dear husband.” The word “rang” is a homonym for wife and husband. Together, Arirang would mean “I part from my dear wife” or “I part from my dear husband.” (Surprisingly, even though this would make “Arirang” a Sino-Korean word, it is the theory most favored among North Korean historians.)

4. 我難離(아난리) – A-nan-ri (“Our Escape Is Difficult”)

The fourth conjecture would also pin the etymology of Arirang to developments during the reign of Regent Heungseong. More specifically, the song alludes to the reconstruction of Gyeongbok Palace (景福宮, 경복궁), which had been destroyed during the Japanese invasions (1592-1598) and laid fallow between then and the 19th century. According to this theory, during the reconstruction, the conscripted laborers recalled forced laborers centuries ago who had toiled under Emperor Qin Shi Huang (秦始皇, 진시황, 260-210BC, r. 246-221BC) in constructing the Great Wall (萬里長城, 만리장성). The Qin laborers had sighed, “Eo-yu-ha, A-da-go” (魚遊河 我多苦, 어유하 아다고), meaning “The fish can play in the streams, but our pangs are many”. In remembrance of their toil, the Chosun laborers lamented, “Eo-yu-ha, A-nan-ri” (河 離, 어유하 아난리), meaning “The fish can play in the streams, but our escape is difficult.” Under this conjecture, the latter half of their lamentations would eventually turn from “Ananri” to “Arirang.”

5. 我耳聾(아이롱) – A-i-rong (“My Ears Become Deaf”)

Yet another theory would also date the origin of Arirang to the reign of Regent Heungsong and also the reconstruction of Gyeongbok Palace. To rebuild the palace, Regent Heungsong “asked” for donations (願納金, 원납금) several times around the country. Peeved, someone wrote a Classical Chinese poem (漢詩, 한시) complaining, “Dan-won-a-i-rong Bul-mun-weon-nap-seong” (但願我耳聾 / 不聞願納聲, 단원아이롱 / 불문원납성), meaning “If only I could, I would wish that my ears became deaf so that I do not hear words ‘please donate.'” According to this theory, this poem became widely circulated by word of mouth, and the last three syllables in the first line eventually morphed from “Airong” to “Arirang.”

6. 啞而聾(아이롱) – A-i-rong (“Mute and Deaf”)

The sixth hypothesis also attributes the etymology of Arirang to the reign of Regent Heungseong and reconstruction of Gyeongbok Palace. Under this hypothesis, it is said that able-bodied men that wanted to be exempt from being conscripted had others state that they were “mute and deaf” (나는 귀가 먹어 듣지도, 말하지도 못한다), or in Classical Chinese “Airong” (啞而聾, 아이롱 or 아이농). The phrase “Airong” eventually morphed to “Arirang.”

7. 兒朗偉(아랑위) – A-rang-wi (Onomatopoeia)

This conjecture also dates the origin of the song to the Regent Heungsong’s reign, although the phrase itself predates this period. When traditional Korean houses for the gentry were built, the gentry owners would celebrate by posting Classical Chinese poems on the ridge beams and reciting them. The poems dedicated for the completion of construction often had the phrase “A-rang-wi, po-ryang-dong” (兒郞偉 抛樑東, 아랑위 포량동) repeatedly. “A-rang-wi” was an onomatopoeia in Classical Chinese that depicts laborers’ grunts while constructing and “Po-ryang-dong” means “To turn the crossbeam eastward.” Under this conjecture, during the reconstruction of Gyeongbok Palace, buildings were completed so frequently that the conscripted laborers were able to memorize and sing the poems among themselves. Eventually, “Arangwi” morphed to “Arirang.”

8. 英(아미일영) – A-mi-il-yeong (“Russia, America, Japan, and England”)

This theory also pins the song’s origin to the late 19th century and references colonial powers that were trying to grab a hold of Korea: Russia, America, Japan, and England. Or in Sino-Korean, “a” (俄, 아) (“Russia”), “mi” (美, 미) (“America”), “il” (日, 일) (“Japan”), and “yeong” (英, 영) (“England”). The embassies for these countries for constructed incidentally during the reign of Regent Heungseong. Under this theory, “Ami’ilyeong” turned to “Arirang.” This theory was first forwarded by Japanese scholars during the colonial period.

9. 樂浪(낙랑) – Nak-rang (Geographic Name)

Under the last theory, the word Arirang originated from a name of hill named Nakrang (樂浪, 낙랑). This hill was supposedly located near a path between Pyongyang and Gaesong between two peaks. Under this theory, the song is said to have originated from homesick travelers. The word “Nakrang” eventually morphed to “Arirang.” There are other explanations that similarly propose that the word refers to a geographical location. Under one alternative explanation, “Ari” (아리) is a native Korean term and that “rang” (랑) is a corruption of the word “ryeong” (嶺, 령) meaning “hill” or “peak.” (This explanation seems to be the most popular in English sources.)

Conclusion

Arirang is by any measure a unique and integral part of the Korean cultural patrimony. One reason why it is so popular is that it seems to be an expression of “pure” Korean culture. For that very reason, the song plays well to the tendencies unfortunately held by many Koreans today: (i) that only the “pure” parts of the Korean cultural patrimony are worth preserving to the neglect of others and (ii) that Korean culture ought to be portrayed as wholly distinct from its neighbors. In particular, many who hold such notions often like to minimize sinitic influences on Korean culture and portray them as being limited to the upper crust of previous generations of Koreans. This attitude, however, is certainly regrettable and would be amiss even with Arirang. Indeed, most of the more accepted, conventional theories on the song’s etymology point to Sino-Korean or Classical Chinese. These explanations, though hypotheses, demonstrate that Korean cultural patrimony without its sinitic elements would paint an incomplete and hollow picture of the Korean experience throughout the ages.

Sources:

Seo Geojeong (徐居正, 서거정, 1420-1488) was a early Chosun dynasty period bureaucrat, diplomat, Neo-Confucian scholar, and poet. He was of the Dalseong Seo Clan (達城徐氏, 달성서씨); his courtesy name (字, 자) was Gangjung (剛中, 강중); his pen names (號, 호) were Sagajeong (亭, 사가정) and Jeongjeongjeong (亭亭, 정정정); and his posthumous name (諡, 시) was Munchung (文忠, 문충). At the age of 24 in 1444, Seo Geojeong passed the civil service examination (科擧, 과거), and rose through bureaucratic ranks. In 1451, he was made a At-Leisure Reader (賜暇讀書, 사가독서) and a member of the Hall of Worthies (集賢殿, 집현전). In 1460, he was made Envoy to the Ming Dynasty (謝恩使, 사은사) and traveled to China a number of times throughout his career. In the following year, Seo Geojeong was made Inspector General (大司憲, 대사헌). In 1464, he was appointed as Director of the Office of Royal Decrees (大提學, 대제학) and then two years after in 1466 progressed to Minister of Six Bureaus (六曹判書, 육조판서), one of the highest bureaucratic position in the government. In 1487, he was appointed as tutor to the crown prince, but passed away the following year.

Throughout this time, Seo Geojeong was a prolific compiler of Classical Chinese works. He participated in the compiling of various legal documents and histories, such as the Great Code of Managing the Country (經典, 경국대전), Comprehensive Mirror of the Eastern Kingdom (東鑑, 동국통감), A Geographical Survey of the Eastern Kingdom (東輿覽, 동국여지승람). Seo Geojeong put together a number of anthologies of Classical Chinese writings by Korean authors, such as the Poetry Discourses of the Eastern People (東人詩話, 동인시화), Anthology of Eastern Texts (東文選, 동문선), and Poetry and Prose of the Eastern People (東文, 동인시문). He arranged one of the earliest works of humor in Korean history in a publication titled the Comical Tales of Great Peace and Leisurely Chatter (太平閑話滑稽傳, 태평한화골계전). (Seo Geojeong also translated a number of Classical Chinese works into Korean using Hangul.) 

Furthermore, his own compositions were very well renowned. He is considered perhaps the best writer of the early Chosun dynasty period. One story has it that when Seo Geojeong met Ming officials in China, they were shocked by the high quality of his poems and invited him to compose poetry with them. Back home in Korea, his colleagues acclaimed his writings as equal in quality to that of the famous Tang dynasty poet Han Yu (韓愈, 한유, 768-824). In the poem below, Seo Geojeong describes the scenery of Seoul when returning home drunk from a friend’s place during Buddha’s Birthday (釋迦誕辰日, 석가탄신일 or 初八日, 초파일), and opines on Buddhism. The day traditionally falls on the eight day of the fourth month on the Lunar Calendar, which is May 25 on the Western Gregorian Calendar this year. The custom even today is to light lanterns, as he describes below.

四月八日, 友人家, 扶醉而歸.
사월팔일, 우인가, 부취이귀.

On the Fourth Month, Eighth Day, Returning Home from a Friend’s House, Inebriated and Slumped Over.

佛祖生辰四八日 불조생신사팔일 仄仄平平仄仄仄
都人發願千百燈 도인발원천백등 仄平仄仄平仄平 (韻)
明月梨花吾醉去 명월리화오취거 平仄平平平仄仄
人間妄想夢何曾 인간망상몽하증 平平仄仄仄平平 (韻)

The founder of Buddhism’s birthday is on the fourth month, eighth day.
People around the city send off their prayers with thousands and hundreds of lanterns.
The bright moon is like pear blossoms, as I leave in my inebriated state.
Why do mankind’s delusions and dreams overlap?

Definitions:

Buddha • progenitor • birth • day • four • eight • day
Capital • people • to send off • prayer • thousand • hundred • lantern
Bright • moon • pear • blossom • I  • drunk • to leave
People • among • absurd • to think • dreams • how • to overlap

Notes:

  • Heptasyllabic truncated verse (七言絶句, 칠언절구) with the end of the second and fourth line riming (韻, 운) with the character 蒸(승). There is also an interesting progression in the tonal meter. It is as though the poet intended to write a recent style poem (近體詩, 근체시), but is so inebriated he falls short. The first couplet violates the rules of recent style poetry. In the first line, the last three characters are all oblique ones (下三仄, 하삼측). Furthermore, in the second line, the second and fifth characters are an isolated plain tone (孤平, 고평) and the second and sixth are not of the same tone (二四不同二六對, 이사부동이륙대). In contrast, the second couplet complies with the rules. Nevertheless between the two couplets, the adhesion rule (粘法, 점법) was not followed.
  • 扶醉(부취) – Literally “supporting a drunkard.” Here, it refers to being hauled by others to go back home.
  • 佛祖(불조) – Literally “founder of Buddhism.” Refers to Buddha.
  • Korean translation available here.

Yang Wanli (楊萬里, 양만리, 1127-1206) was a Song dynasty (宋, 송, 960-1279) bureaucrat and poet. He was born in what is now Ji’an (安, 길안) in Jiangxi Province (江西省, 강서성); his courtesy name (字, 자) is Tingxiu (廷秀, 정수); and his pen name (號, 호) is Chengzhai (誠齋, 성재). Yang Wanli grew up during the Jurchen Jin invasions, one of many turbulent times in Chinese history. In 1154, he passed the civil service exam, and became appointed to various bureaucratic positions around China, the first in Lingling (零陵, 영릉). During the reign of Song Emperor Xiaozong (宋孝宗, 송 효종, 1127-1194, r. 1162-1189), Yang Wanli was promoted to various high ranking positions, such as the Imperial Academy (國監, 국자감), Head Scholar of the Ministry of Ceremonies (太士, 태상박사), and Reader-in-Waiting for the Heir Apparent (太讀, 태자시독). In 1187, however, for opposing the memorialization of a widely criticized minister named Lu Yihao (呂頤浩, 여이호, 1071-1139) at the royal shrine (廟祀, 묘사), Yang Wanli was banished from the capital and demoted to Administer of Yunzhou (州, 균주), which is in Jiangxi Province (江西省, 강서성). His status was restored and he was reappointed to the Imperial Academy, during the reign of Song Emperor Guangzong (宋光宗, 송 광종, 1147-1200, r. 1189-1194). Regardless, few years later, shortly after Song Emperor Ningzong (宋寧宗, 송 영종, 1168-1224, r. 1194-1224) took the throne, Yang Wanli offered a retirement request to the Emperor, who accepted it. The court called him back repeatedly from retirement, but he refused every time. Throughout his political career, even well after the signing of the Treaty of Shaoxing (紹興和議, 소흥화의) ending the Jin-Song conflict in 1142, Yang Wanli repeatedly submitted petitions (上疏, 상소) demanding the court send troops to reclaim territories lost to the Jurchen. He grew bitter over the fact that his call for action went unheard. 

In addition, Yang Wanli was a prolific Classical Chinese poet. During his appointments across China, he wrote a volume of poems about the regions he was stationed. In total, Yang Wanli wrote over 4,000 poems, just shy of the record set by his contemporary and friend, Lu You (陸游, 육유, 1125-1209). The following is from 1179, when Yang Wanli was appointed as the Superintendent of Guangdong (?) (廣東常平提學, 광동상평제학). He composed this poem as he was traveling from Quzhou (衢州, 구주) to Jiangshan (江山, 강산) during the fourth month of that year. In the poem, Yang Wanli captures the toil and labor of farmers planting rice in the countryside. Planting rice the usual agricultural practice from Grain Budding Day (小滿, 소만) to Grain in Ear Day (芒種, 망종). Both these days are solar terms and thus fall every year around May 21 and June 6 respectively. Rice farming has a long history in China, as rice (Oryza sativa) was first domesticated in southern China sometime between 8,000 to 13,000 years ago.

揷秧歌 삽앙가

Rice Planting Song

田夫抛秧田婦接 전부포앙전부접 平平平平平仄仄(韻)
小兒拔秧大兒揷 소아발앙대아삽 仄平仄平仄平仄(韻)
笠是兜鍪蓑是甲 립시두무사시갑 仄仄平平平仄仄(韻)
雨從頭上濕到胛 우종두상습도갑 仄仄平仄仄仄仄(韻)
唤渠朝餐歇半霎 환거조찬헐반삽 仄平平平仄仄仄(韻)
低頭折腰只不答 저두절요지불답 平平仄平仄仄仄(韻)
秧根未牢蒔未匝 앙근미뢰시미잡 平仄仄平平仄仄(韻)
照管鵝兒與雛鴨 조관아아여추압 仄仄平平仄平仄(韻)

The farm husbands throw the rice seedlings; the farm wives receive.
The smaller children pick the rice seedlings; the larger children plant.
Bamboo hats are like war helmets; straw raincoats like armor.
Rain waters flow from top of the head and soak down to the collar bone.
Those people, having been called to breakfast, respite for half a second.
Lowering their heads and bending their waists, they only do not answer.
Since the rice seedlings’ roots are not yet firm and the planted seedlings have not yet spread,
Take care of the young goslings and ducklings!

Definitions:

Rice paddy • husband • throw • seedlings • rice paddy • wife • treat
Small • children • pluck • seedlings • large • children • plant
Bamboo hat • to be • helmet • helmet • straw raincoat • to be • armor
Rain • from • head • top • soak • reach • collar bone
Call • that • morning • meal • respite • half • moment
Lower • head • bend • waist • only • not  • answer
Seedling • root • not yet • firm • seedling • not yet • go around
Inform • take care • geese • child • and • chick • duck

Notes:

  • Heptasyllabic archaic poem (七言古詩, 칠언고시) with each line ending with an oblique tone rime (仄韻, 측운). The riming characters (韻, 운) are 合(합), 葉(엽), and 洽(흡), all entering tones (入聲, 입성) of -p (ㅂ). (Entering tones no longer exist in Mandarin Chinese.)
  • Korean translation available here.

우리한시 삼백수 7언절구

우리 한시 삼백수 7언절구 편 – 정민 평역
Three Hundred of Our Classical Chinese Poems: Heptasyllabic Truncated Verse Volume
Annotated and Translated by Jeong Min

Bibliographic Summary

  • Title: 우리 한시 삼백수 7언절구 편 (Three Hundred of Our Classical Chinese Poems: Heptasyllabic Truncated Verse Volume)
  • Author: 정민 (Jeong Min), professor at Hanyang University (漢陽大學校, 한양대학교)
  • Publication: First printing 2013, second printing 2014
  • Price: 19,800 Won
  • Language: Korean with poems in original Classical Chinese text
  • Pages: 657 pages

Introduction

Summer is around. So, I thought I would recommend a Korean book on Classical Chinese poetry (漢詩, 한시) as a summer reading suggestion for those that know Korean at an intermediate level. I tried to look for an anthology that seemed to be popular and not too simple or overly difficult. I found Three Hundred of Our Classical Chinese Poems by Professor Jeong Min, which had several reviews including those from major newspapers. The “three hundred” in the title is an explicit reference to the Classic of Poetry (詩經, 시경), which also has roughly three hundred poems. Truncated verse (絶句, 절구) refers to a form of Classical Chinese poem that follows strict tonal meter.

Content

The author follows the norm for Korean translations of Classical Chinese texts. As seen in the scan below, for each poem, there is a Korean translation, Classical Chinese original, Korean pronunciations, annotation of difficult characters, and additional commentary by the author. The poems are arranged in chronological order from the late Shilla period (新羅, 신라, 57BC-935AD) to the early 20th century. Many of the poets covered are well-known figures from Korean history, such as Choe Chiwon (崔致遠, 최치원, 857-?), Yi Gyubo (李奎報, 이규보, 1168-1241), Jeong Mongju (鄭夢周, 정몽주, 1337-1392), Jeong Dojeon (鄭道傳, 정도전, 1342-1398), Heo Gyun (許筠, 허균, 1569-1618), Kim Satgat (金笠, 김삿갓, 1807-1863), and Han Yongun (韓龍雲, 한용운, 1879-1944).

Scan 05-10-2015

Review

This book is ideal for the casual or novice reader of Classical Chinese poetry that knows Korean. Professor Jeong Min manages to balance the level and depth of the annotated translations between the general Korean audience that might not be focused on Classical Chinese to those that are interested in pursuing the language further. It includes a fairly easy to read Korean translation, original text plus the pronunciations, and annotations of difficult characters or words. Compared to some other books I have, the annotations are light and not too excessive. They explain enough of the language in the poem for readers that are interested in further digging into the original text. The author’s own commentary also gives some background behind either the poem or the poet.

I hope subscribers that know Korean at some level consider Professor Jeong Min’s Three Hundred of Our Classical Chinese Poems in their summer reading list. (He also recently published a pentasyllabic truncated verse volume.) Those residing state side can have Korean books shipped via Aladin (알라딘). Korea’s Classical Chinese literature is woefully underappreciated even by many Koreans. I further hope books like his revive interest in this often dismissed part of Korean cultural heritage.

夏日山居

Staying at a Mountain on a Summer Day (夏日山居, 하일산거) by Hua Yan (華喦, 화암, 1682-1756) (Source)

Gao Pian (高騈, 고병, ?-887) was a late Tang dynasty period (唐, 당, 618-907) military general. He was born in Youzhou (幽州, 유주) in what is now Hebei Province (河北省, 하북성); and his courtesy name (字, 자) was Qianli (千里, 천리). He began his military career as a royal guard (禁軍, 금군) and initially gained fame for military campaigns in southwestern China against the Nanzhao (南詔, 남조). During the reign of Emperor Xizong of Tang (唐僖宗, 당 희종, 862-888, r. 873-888), Gao Pian was successively appointed as the Regional Military Governor (使, 절도사) of Tianping (天平, 천평), Zhenhai (鎭海, 진해), and then Huainan (淮南, 회남). When an affluent commoner named Huang Chao (黃巢, 황소, ?-884) started a rebellion in 875, Gao Pian was made Commanding General of All Circuits (諸統, 제도행영도총) and began a long campaign against the rebellion. Around this time, he became acquainted with the Shilla-born scholar Choe Chiwon (崔致遠, 최치원, 857-?) and made him an attendant (從事官, 종사관) for his campaign. (Choe Chiwon became renowned for penning A Manifesto Condemning Huang Chao (討文, 토황소격문) on behalf of Gao Pian.) Though Huang Chao’s rebellion was eventually quashed by 884 by Gao Pian and other Tang dynasty generals, it heavily destabilized the central government, as these very military generals effectively ruled the subdued territories by themselves. Gao Pian himself controlled the area in and around Yangzhou (陽州, 양주). In 887, Bi Shiduo (畢師鐸, 필사탁, ?-888), a military official who had assisted Gao Pian in quashing the rebellion, rose up against him, took the city, and had him executed. 

He was also an accomplished poet, and some of his poems appear in the anthology Complete Tang Dynasty Poems (全唐詩, 전당시). In the poem below, Gao Pian describes the mountain scenery on a summer day. Traditionally, the Start of Summer (立夏, 입하) was marked by the days when the Sun is between the celestial longitudes of 45 and 60 degrees. As a solar term, this date is fixed to May 6 on the Western Gregorian Calendar, but varies on the Chinese Lunar Calendar. The day also marked the day that “Leopard frogs croaked, earthworms crawled out, and melons started growing” (螻蟈鳴, 丘螾出, 王瓜生 – 뇌괵명, 구인출, 왕과생).

夏日山亭 하일산정

綠樹濃陰夏日長 록수농음하일장 仄仄平平仄仄平(韻)
樓臺倒影入池塘 루대도영입지당 平平仄仄仄平平(韻)
水晶簾動微風起 수정렴동미풍기 平平平仄平平仄
滿架薔薇一院香 만가장미일원향 仄仄平平仄仄平(韻)

Green trees thicken the shade; the summer day is long.
A tower’s inverted shadow enters the pond.
The crystal-beaded curtain sways, with the light breeze arising.
Filling the trellis are roses and the entire garden’s fragrance.

Definitions:

Green • trees • dense • shade • summer • day • long
Tower • platform • invert • shadow • enter • pond • pond
Water • crystal • screens • sway • little • wind • arise
Fill • rack • roses • roses • all • garden • fragrance

Notes:

  • Heptasyllabic truncated verse (七言絶句, 칠언절구). Riming character (韻, 운) is 陽(양). The poem generally complies with the rules of recent style poetry (近體詩, 근체시). A very minor deviation, called “transgressing the rime scheme” (冒韻, 모운), can be seen in the fourth line, as 薔(장) is of the same rime as the riming character, but it is not the last character of the line.
  • Korean translation available here.

Naver Encyclopedia

One point I have tried to make repeatedly is that there are tons of resources on Classical Chinese in Korean in print and online — and not to mention, free. This is one reason why I do not post my own Korean translations, and instead include a link to another source that has them. In this post, I would like to highlight the resources on Classical Chinese available on Naver’s encyclopedia (네이버 지식백과). I hope that readers, who are interested in this subject and already know Korean at a high level, will take advantage of these resources and stroll through some of the articles there. The resources listed below have been included in the resources tab at the top of this blog.

Learning Chinese Literature Through History (역사 따라 배우는 중국사)

Chinese literature has a very long history extending more than three millennia. It is therefore beneficial to be acquainted with its history to fully appreciate Classical Chinese literature — even those from Korean sources. This resource goes through the world of Chinese literature, and its poems, songs, plays, and novels, from the Classic of Poetry (詩經, 시경) in the 12th century BC to The Bureaucracy Exposed (官場現形記, 관장현형기) of the end of Qing dynasty period. It also covers literature even from the Khitan Liao (遼, 요, 907-1125), Jurchen Jin (金, 금, 1115-1234), and Mongol Yuan (元, 원, 1271-1368) dynasties, which are often left out from anthologies on this subject.

Encyclopedia of Classical Chinese Poets and Their Poetry (한시작가작품사전)

This resource includes short biographies of select Chinese and Korean Classical Chinese poets (810 total) from various periods and their poetry. Unlike most Korean books on Classical Chinese poems, it also details the tonal meter (平仄, 평측) and rime (押韻, 압운) of each poem. (I have been meaning to explain this crucial aspect of Classical Chinese poetry more in my blog.) As such, it is an excellent resource for learning poetic forms.

Reading Classical Chinese Poetry of the Chosun Dynasty (Parts I and II) and Goryeo Dynasty
(조선시대 한시읽기: 상) (조선시대 한시읽기: 하) (고려시대 한시 읽기)

Korea itself has produced a large number of fine Classical Chinese poetry. These three resources cover poems by Korean authors dating from the 10th to the early 20th centuries. For each poem, the author gives a detailed explanation on its content and form as well as the historical background of each poet. The author also lists the definitions of difficult characters in the excerpts.

Korean Classical Poetry by Women (한국고전여성시사)

There are also resources on Classical Chinese literature that focus on particular groups in Korean history. This one focuses on women and their Classical Chinese poems and vernacular Sijo (詩調, 시조). The time period covered ranges from the beginning of the Three Kingdoms Period (三國時代, 삼국시대) in the 1st century BC to the Japanese colonial era (日帝時代, 일제시대) in the early 20th century, with most poems from the Chosun dynasty period (朝鮮, 조선, 1392-1910). The poets are drawn from various classes such as royalty, gentry, courtesans (妓生, 기생), commoners, and Buddhist monks. Of interest is that the resource also takes a look at women’s opinions on Confucianism, both positive and negative. It points out that Confucian scholars took serious efforts to improve literacy among Korean women.

Culture of the Common People – Literary Arts (문예 – 여항문화)

Another group whose literature has gotten some attention are the commoners. Their literature and related culture is literally referred to as “culture of hamlets and streets” (閭巷文化, 여항문화). This resource includes short biographies of poets and their Classical Chinese poems. All of these poets are from the Chosun dynasty period, most of whom are from the period’s latter half. Unfortunately, though it does have the Classical Chinese original, the resource does not give explanations of the text. I referred to this resource when covering the Classical Chinese poets from non-gentry backgrounds last year.

Dictionary of Words in Classical Chinese Poetry (한시어사전)

Many Classical Chinese poets, especially from later periods, make allusions that seem very esoteric to modern audiences. This resource includes explanations of such words used in Classical Chinese poetry. For each entry, it includes examples from both Korean and Chinese poets from various periods.

Song Luo (宋犖, 송락, 1634-1713) was a Qing dynasty (淸, 청, 1644-1912) bureaucrat, calligrapher, and poet. He was born in Shangqiu (丘, 상구) in Henan Province (河南省, 하남성); his courtesy name was Muzhong (牧仲, 목중); and his pen names (號, 호) were Mantang (漫堂, 만당), Xipi (西陂, 서파), Mianjinshan Ren (綿津山人, 면진산인), Xipi Laoren (西陂老人, 서파노인), and Xipi Fangyaweng (西陂放鴨翁, 서파방압옹). He was the son of Song Quan (宋權, 송권, 1598-1652), an official who served both the Ming and Qing dynasties. By his father’s recommendation to the court, Song Luo was able to attain a government position without having taken the civil service examination. He served various roles in the Qing dynasty government, including the Magistrate of Huangzhou (黃州通判, 황주통판), Inspector-General of Jiangsu (江蘇巡撫, 강소순무), Minister of Civil Service Affairs (吏部尚書, 이부상서), and Tutor to the Crown Prince (太子少師, 태자소사). From an early age, he is said to have enjoyed the classics and excelled at poetry. During his career, he composed poems with the top Chinese poets of his time and wrote critiques of Tang and Song dynasty poets. 

In the poem below, Song Luo writes about the “peonies of Chosun,” which do not refer to actual peonies but to a flower known as bleeding hearts (錦囊花, 금낭화 or 荷包牡丹) that are native to not only Korea but also Japan and northern China. He also alludes to the Grain Rain Day (穀雨, 곡우). As a solar term, the Grain Rain Day falls on April 20 or 21 every year and marks when the Sun is between the celestial longitude of 30 to 45 degrees. It is also supposed to mark the days that see the most rain in spring.

朝鮮牡丹 조선모란

The Peonies of Chosun

花葉羅羅旁檻披 화엽라라방람파
也從穀雨鬪芳姿 야종곡우투방자
沈香亭暖柯全改 침향정난가전개
鴨綠江空種乍移 압록강공종사리
苞奪臙肢明霽日 포탈연지명제일
穗分纓珞颺微颸 수분영락양미시
殷勤一剪濃春色 은근일전농춘색
會遣朝雲識此奇 회견조운식차기

The flowers and leaves vividly and distinctly open leaning against the rails.
From the Grain Rain Day, they boast their fragrant figure.
As the Shenxiang Pavilion (沈香亭, 침향정) becomes warm, the branches have completely changed;
With the Yalu River (鴨綠江, 압록강) emptied, the seeds are quickly dispersed.
Flower buds, surpassing rouge in brilliance, brighten the rain-cleared day;
Grain ears, separating into tassels, sway in the light breeze.
Attentively and cautiously, I cut one of these, intense with the colors of spring.
Chao Yun (朝雲, 조운, 1062-1095) must be made acquainted with this marvel.

Definitions:

Flowers • leaves • vivid • vivid • side • rails • to open
Grammatical particle • from • grain • rain • to compete • fragrant • form
To soak • fragrance • pavilion • warm • branch • entirely • to change
Duck • green • river • empty • seeds • quickly • to move
Buds • to lose • rouge • limbs • to brighten • rain-clear • day
Ears • to divide • string • jade • to sway • light • breeze
Quietly • subtly • once • cut • to become dense • spring • colors
Must • to make • morning • clouds • to know • this • new thing

Notes:

  • Heptasyllabic regulated poem (七言律詩, 칠언율시). Riming character (韻, 운) is 支(기).
  • 沈香亭(침향정) – Refers to Shenxiang Pavilion, a pavilion that stood east of Xingqing Pond (興慶池, 흥경지) in the Tang dynasty royal palace during the reign of Emperor Xuanzong of Tang (唐宗, 당 현종, 685-762, r. 712-756). Several types of flowers were planted there.
  • 朝雲(조운) – Refers to a concubine of the Song dynasty poet Su Shi (蘇軾, 소식, 1037-1101).
  • Korean translation available here.
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 313 other followers