Mount Chiak (雉岳山, 치악산) in Gangweon Province (江原道, 강원도) (Source)

Won Cheonseok (元天錫, 원천석, 1330-?) was a Neo-Confucian scholar that lived during late Goryeo dynasty (高麗, 고려, 918-1392) and early Chosun dynasty (朝鮮, 조선, 1392-1897) periods. He was of the Weonju Won Clan (原州元氏, 원주원씨); his courtesy name (字, 자) was Jajeong (子正, 자정); and his pen name (號, 호) was Ungok (谷, 운곡). Recognized for his abilities from a young age, Won Cheonseok passed the Goryeo dynasty civil service examination. He, however, did not take any positions in government, realizing that the 400 year-old Goryeo dynasty was waning. When Yi Seonggye (李成桂, 이성계, 1335-1408) took power from the royal court, Won Cheonseok left the capital of Gaeseong (開城, 개성) and rusticated to Mount Chiak (雉岳山, 치악산) in present day Gangweon Province (江原道, 강원도). There, he built a farm that he worked himself, supported his parents, and wrote several works lamenting the downfall of the Goryeo dynasty. Sometime before his departure, Won Cheonseok was the tutor of Yi Bangwon (李芳遠, 이방원, 1367-1422), who would later become King Taejong of Chosun (太宗, 태종, r. 1400-1418), the third monarch of the Chosun dynasty. Because of this, after King Taejong ascended to the throne in 1400, the King requested Won Cheonseok to join his court several times, but each time he refused. When the King tried to personally visit him, Weon Cheonseok avoided the King by fleeing deep into the mountains. Unable to meet him, King Taejong instead went up to his house, and bestowed his grandmother a present and granted the position of county magistrate (현감, 縣監) to his son.

He continued writing histories and poems grieving over the fall of the Goryeo dynasty. While Won Cheonseok was renowned for his literary talents, because his writings often conflicted with the official histories, many were intentionally burned in later generations. Among Won Cheonseok’s surviving writings, however, are a few Lyric Poetry or Ci (詞, 사). The poem below was most likely written during his self-imposed exile on Mount Chiak. In it, Won Cheonseok reminiscences about his past close to the former royal court and despairs over his own current seclusion by likening his thoughts and feelings to that of a lonely traveler longing for his home village and in search for a place of belonging.

蝶戀花 접련화
處 처

To the Tune of the Butterfly Endearing the Flowers:
A Place

客裏應難爰得所 객리응난원득소 仄仄平平平仄仄(韻)
鄕思悽然 향사처연 平仄平平
夢繞秋蓮渚 몽요추련저 仄平平平仄(韻)
日暮長安愁幾許 일모장안수기허 仄仄平平平仄仄(韻)
羨他孤鳥高飛去 선타고조고비거 仄平平仄平平仄(韻)

To a sojourner, it is surely difficult to obtain a location.
Longing for the home village is wistful:
Dreams of walking around the autumn’s lotus by the riverbank
And of the sun setting upon the Jang’an (長安, 장안), how many times has he pondered?
He envies that lonely bird flying high in the air and away.

Traveler • within • should • to be difficult • henceforth • to obtain • place
Village • longing • despair • grammatical particle
To dream • to walk about • autumn • lotus flowers • riverbank
Sun • to set • long • peace • to worry over • how many • grammatical particle
To envy • that • lonely • bird • highly • to fly • to leave

  • 長安(장안) – Refers to Chang’an, which is present day Xi’an (西安, 서안) and served as the capital of many Chinese dynasties. Korean poets often used this term to refer to the capital.

我亦凉凉無伴侶 아역량량무반려 仄仄平平平仄仄(韻)
閒寂幽居 한적유거 平仄仄平
只有山禽語 지유산금어 仄仄平平仄(韻)
忽憶前遊多意緖 홀억전유다의서 仄仄平平平仄仄(韻)
悠悠往事尋無處 유유왕사심무처 平平仄仄平平仄(韻)

I too am alone and lonesome, with neither friends nor companions.
From my free and silent, remote abode,
All there is are the chattering birds of the mountain.
Suddenly, I reminisce about my prior journeys with many wound-up aims:
Far and distant, past events cannot be found in any place.

I • also • alone • alone • to not have • friends • companions
Leisure •  silence • seclusion • residence
Only • to have • mountain • birds • talking
Suddenly • to remember • previous • journeys • many • intentions • threaded
Far • far • to leave • affairs • to find • to not have • place

  • 意緖(의서) – Refers to complicated, multifaceted thoughts.
  • 悠悠(유유) – While the meaning of this word in modern Korean is largely limited to “to be at leisure,” here it refers to something that is very far away.


  • This poem follows the tune the Butterfly Endearing the Flowers (Dielianhua). Its rubric has two verses of sixty characters in total (雙調六十字). The former and latter verses each have five lines with four oblique tones (前後段各五句, 四仄韻). The oblique tone rime used throughout the poem is 語(어). As described in the Imperial Compilation of Lyric Poetry Rubrics (欽定詞譜, 흠정사보):

雙調六十字, 前後段各五句, 四仄韻
O仄O平平仄仄(韻) O仄平平 O仄平平仄(韻) O仄O平平仄仄(韻) O平O仄平平仄(韻)
O仄O平平仄仄(韻) O仄平平 O仄平平仄(韻) O仄O平平仄仄(韻) O平O仄平平仄(韻)


Goryeo Baekjawan

White porcelain cup dating back to Goryeo period (Source)

Yi Jehyeon (李齊賢, 이제현, 1287-1367) was a civil bureaucrat of the Goryeo dynasty (高麗, 고려, 918-1392) and the Mongol Yuan dynasty (元, 원, 1271-1368), Neo-Confucian scholar, poet, and painter. He was of the Gyeongju Yi Clan (慶州李氏, 경주이씨); his courtesy name (字, 자) was Jungsa (仲思, 중사); his pen name (號, 호) was Ikjae (益齋, 익재) and Yeokong (櫟翁, 역옹); and his posthumous name (諡, 시) was Munchung (文忠, 문충). He was recognized for his abilities from a young age. In 1301 at the age of 14, Yi Jehyeon passed the Goryeo civil service examination in first place for entering the National Academy (國子監, 국자감), and was promoted quickly through the ranks. In 1314, he traveled to the Yuan capital of Dadu (大都, 대도) at the request of King Chungseon (忠宣王, 충선왕, 1275-1325, r. 1298, 1308-1313). The King spent most of his reign in Yuan capital as not only the King of Goryeo but also the Prince of Shenyang (瀋陽王, 심양왕) over the Korean and Liaodong Peninsulas. While in China, Yi Jehyeon passed the Yuan civil service examination and befriended several Chinese scholars and artisans. In 1320, when King Chunseong was banished to Tibet (吐蕃, 토번), Yi Jehyeon journeyed all the way to meet the King. This experience lead him to later begin a movement seeking to minimize Mongol interference in internal affairs and bring the Goryeo monarchs back to Goryeo. In 1324, Yi Jehyeon himself returned to Korea and continued serving in government. With the situation on the Korean court turning chaotic in 1339, he retired from public office to turn his efforts to his studies on Confucianism. But Yi Jehyeon returned to public office in 1344, proposing a series of reforms. As the Mongol Yuan dynasty waned, in 1356 he took the side of the anti-Yuan faction. Shortly thereafter, Yi Jehyeon retired again, this time permanently to devote to more studying and writing. When the Red Turbans (紅巾賊之亂, 홍건적의 난) invaded Korea in 1365, he answered the court’s call for assistance and escorted the King as he retreated from the capital. Yi Jehyeon passed away a few years later in 1367. 

In addition to his service in two governments, he was a renowned writer. Yi Jehyeon composed in all varieties of genres and poetic forms, even creating a new genre called “Minor Music Bureau poetry (小樂府, 소악부)” for translating vernacular Korean songs into Classical Chinese. He was also one of the most prolific composers of Lyric Poetry or Ci (詞, 사) from Goryeo. The poem below was written when Yi Jehyeon was in China. In the poem, most likely inebriated, he is enamored by “barley ale (麥酒, 맥주),” describing its taste and even brewing process in some detail. Though it has the same characters and might fall under a broad definition of the beverage, the “barley ale” mentioned in the poem is not the same as beer as it is known today. What Yi Jehyeon drank was probably similar to a rice ale known as Makgeolli (막걸리).

其法不篘不壓, 揷竹筒甕中, 座客以次就而吸之.
기법불추불압, 삽죽통옹중, 좌객이차취이흡지.

Its method does not involve using a straining basket or a press. Rather, a bamboo tube is inserted into a pottery jar, and seated guests would then proceed to draw from it.

傍置杯水, 量所飮多少, 挹注其中, 酒若不盡, 其味不渝.
방치배수, 량소음다소, 읍주기중, 주약불진, 기미불륜.

The cup of water is placed to the side, and the amount each would like to drink is poured therein. If the ale is not depleted, its flavor does not change.

鷓鴣天 자고천
飮麥酒 음맥주

To the Tune of Partridges in the Sky:
Drinking Barley Ale

未用眞珠滴夜風 미용진주적야풍 仄仄平平仄仄平(韻)
碧筩醇酎氣相通 벽통순주기상통 仄平平仄仄平平(韻)
舌頭金液疑初滿 설두금액의초만 仄平平仄平平仄
眼底黃雲陷欲空 안저황운함욕공 仄仄平平仄仄平(韻)

The pearl-like raindrops have not yet been spent on the night’s winds.
Within the jade-blue jar, rich ale and vigor are interconnected.
The golden liquid at the tip of my tongue, I doubted at first that it was full;
As the yellow clouds fall into the bottom of my eye, I wish to empty it.

Not • to use • true • pearl • water drop • night • wind
Blue • jar • thick ale • raw ale • energy • mutual • to pass
Tongue • end • golden • liquid • to doubt • initially • to fill
Eye • bottom • yellow • cloud • to fall • to intend • to empty

香不斷 향불단 平仄仄
味難窮 미난궁 仄平平(韻)
更添春露吸長虹 갱첨춘로흡장홍 仄平平仄仄平平(韻)
飮中妙訣人如問 음중묘결인여문 仄平仄仄平平仄
會得吹笙便可工 회득취생편가공 仄仄平平平仄平(韻)

Its fragrance unceasing;
Its flavor hardly expended.
Again, the added spring dew is slurped from the long rainbow.
Should another ask what is the wondrous secret to drinking, tell him:
If he can blow a reed-pipe, he will soon master it well.

Fragrance • not • to cut
Taste • difficult • to consume
Again • to add • spring • dew • to slurp • long • rainbow
To drink • amid • marvelous • secret • person • if • to inquire
To be able • to obtain • to below • reed instrument • soon • to be able • to master


  • This poem follows the tune Partridges in the Sky (Zhegu Tian). Its rubric has two verses and is fifty-five characters in total (雙調五十五字). The former verse has four lines with three plain tones (前段四句三平韻). The latter verse has five lines with three plain tones (後段五句三平韻). The plain tone rime used throughout the poem is 東(동). As described in the Imperial Compilation of Lyric Poetry Rubrics (欽定詞譜, 흠정사보):

雙調五十五字, 前段四句三平韻, 後段五句三平韻
OOOOOO平(韻) O平O仄仄平平(韻) O平O仄O平仄 O仄平平O仄平(韻)
OO仄 仄平平(韻) O平O仄仄平平(韻) O平O仄平平仄 O仄平平O仄平(韻)


Baduk Board

Baduk board (바둑판). This picture shows the initial stone positions of Sunjang Baduk (巡將棋, 순장바둑), a Korean variant that would not be developed until probably the 16th or 17th centuries. (Source)

Yi Gyubo (李奎報, 이규보, 1168-1241) was a civil bureaucrat and scholar of the Goryeo dynasty (高麗, 고려, 918–1392). He was of the Yeoju Yi Clan (驪州李氏, 여주이씨); his original name (初名, 초명) was Injeo (仁氐, 인저); his courtesy name (字, 자) was Chungyeong (春卿, 춘경); his pen names (號, 호) were Baekun Geosa (白雲居士, 백운거사) (“Resident Scholar of White Clouds”), Jiheon (止軒, 지헌), and Samhokho (三酷好, 삼혹호); and his posthumous name (諡, 시) was Munsun (文順, 문순). The son of a high-ranking official, he spent most of his childhood in Gaeseong (開城, 개성), the capital of the Goryeo dynasty. While recognized for his brilliance and literary talent from an early age, Yi Gyubo spent most of his youth debauching and drinking excessively, so much so that he failed the civil service examination (科擧, 과거) thrice. Eventually, he did sober up and passed at the age of twenty-one in 1189. Yi Gyubo rose through the bureaucratic ranks, working in offices requiring his literary skills, starting from the Office Recorder of Jeonju (全州錄) and Military Recorder and Editor (兵馬錄事兼修製, 병마녹사겸수제). After General Choi Chungheon (崔忠獻 최충헌, 1149-1219) took control of Goryeo court, Yi Gyubo became fully supportive of the Choi regime (崔氏政權, 최씨 정권, 1196-1258), and attained even higher ranks. Although he was demoted and even banished once for offending General Choi Chungheon and his successors, Yi Gyubo was eventually appointed to the prestigious office of the Hanlim Academy (翰林院, 한림원). When the Mongols invaded Korea in 1231, he wrote a letter to the Khan, persuading him to temporarily halt the campaign. Yi Gyubo also convinced the Goryeo court to move to Ganghwa Island (江華島, 강화도), an island off the coast near the capital. From there, the Goryeo government directed their stubborn defense of the peninsula from Mongol forces. He retired from public office in 1237, and passed away on the island. 

Though he sobered up, his carefree spirit from his youth never left and remained in his writings. In line with his personality, Yi Gyubo’s favorite Chinese classic was Zhuangzi (莊子, 장자). He took one of his pen names from one of its passages: “Ride that white cloud over there and reach the home of the gods (乘彼白雲 至乎帝鄕 – 승피백운 지호제향).” Compared to his contemporaries, Yi Gyubo did not overly rely as much on allusions to other works or people of antiquity (典故, 전고), particularly those from China. Rather, he created new expressions and composed poems on Korean historical figures. In addition, Yi Gyubo criticized his peers for excessively focusing on minutiae of poetic form and structure. It was not because he did not know form or structure. On the contrary, Yi Gyubo knew them very well, and composed several of the earliest surviving Lyric Poetry or Ci (詞, 사) by a Korean poet. He was also an avid player of Baduk (바둑) (better known as “Go” in the West), which appears in several of his poems including the following. 

臨江仙 임강선
希禪師方丈觀棋 희선수방장관기

To the Tune of Immortals by the River
Watching a Baduk Match at the Chief Buddhist Monk’s Abode

夜靜紅燈香落地 야정홍등향락지 仄仄平平平仄仄
蛇頭兎勢縱橫 타두토세종횡 平平仄仄平平(韻)
但聞玉子響紋枰 단문옥자향문평 仄平仄仄仄平平(韻)
誰饒誰勝 수요수승 平平平仄
山月西傾 산월서경 平仄平平(韻)

The night is quiet; the red lantern’s fragrance falls upon the ground.
A snake’s head and a hare’s movements lay vertically and horizontally.
The only sound heard are the echoes of the jade pieces upon the patterned board.
Who will be better off? Who will be victorious?
The mountain’s moon declines westward.

Night • quiet  • red • lantern • fragrance • to fall • ground
Snake • head • rabbit • form • vertical • horizontal
Only • to hear • jade • (grammar particle) • echoes • patterned • Baduk board
Who • to prosper • who • to win
Mountain • moon • west • to incline

  • 希禪師(희선사) – Name of a Buddhist monk.
  • 方丈(방장) – Refers to the residence of a high-ranking Buddhist monk.
  • 蛇頭兎勢(타두토세) – Probably refers to particular patterns in Baduk. “A snake’s head (蛇頭, 타두)” may be referring to a ladder and “a hare’s movement (兎勢, 토세)” may be referring to various jumps.

十九條中千萬態 구십조중천만태 仄仄平平平仄仄
世間興廢分明 세간흥폐분명 仄平仄仄平平(韻)
箇中一換幾人生 개중일환기인생 仄平平仄仄平平(韻)
仙柯欲爛 선가욕란 平平仄仄
回首忽相驚 회수홀상경 平仄仄平平(韻)

Upon the nineteen lines, thousands upon tens of thousands of variations.
In the real world, what flourishes and what flounders is stark and apparent.
Within all this, how many men’s lives are there in one exchange?
As the hermit’s axe helve becomes rotten,
All the turned heads suddenly become startled.

Ten • nine • strips • amid •  thousand •  ten-thousand • shapes
World • between •  to rise •  to be abolished • one • clear • bright
Each • amid • one • to exchange • man • life
Hermit • axe helve •  to become • to rot
Turn •  head •  sudden •  mutually • to startle

  • Third line is probably referring to a common tactic in Baduk, in which a player sacrifices a few stones to gain greater territory (捨石作戰, 사석작전).
  • Last two lines are in reference to a famous story on how onlookers of the board game can become so mesmerized that they forget their sense of time. Here it is summarized in the Book of Jin (晉書, 진서):

王質入山斫木, 見二童圍棋, 坐觀之. 及起, 斧柯已爛矣.
왕질입산작목, 견이동위기, 좌관지, 급기, 부가이란의.

Wang Zhi (王質, 왕질) entered the mountain to cut wood. He saw two children playing Baduk and sat down to watch them. When he rose up, his axe helve had already rotten.


  • This poem follows a variant of the tune, Immortals by the River (Linjiang Xian). The variant rubric has two verses of fifty eight characters (雙調五十八字). The former and latter verses each have five lines (前後段各五句) with three plain tone rimes (三平韻).  The plain tone rime used throughout the poem is 庚(경). As described in the Imperial Compilation of Lyric Poetry Rubrics (欽定詞譜, 흠정사보):

又一體 雙調五十八字, 前後段各五句, 三平韻
OO平O平O仄, O平O仄平平(韻), O平O仄仄平平(韻), O平O仄, O仄仄平平(韻)
OO仄O平O仄, O平O仄平平(韻), O平O仄仄平平(韻), O平O仄, O仄仄平平(韻)

Note that the former and latter verses are identical.



Ruins of the former palace of the Goryeo dynasty in Gaesong (開城, 개성) in present day North Korea (Source)

King Seonjong (宣宗, 선종, 1049-1094, r. 1083-1094) was the thirteenth monarch of the Goryeo dynasty (高麗, 고려 918-1392). He was of the Gaesong Wang Clan (開城王氏, 개성왕씨); his original names (初名, 초명) were Jeung (蒸, 증) and Gi (祈, 기); his courtesy name (字, 자) was Gyecheon (繼天, 계천); his exalted name (諱, 휘) was Un (運, 운); and his posthumous title (諡, 시) was Sahyo (思孝, 사효). King Seonjong was the second son between King Munjong (文宗, 문종, 1019-1083, r. 1046-1083) and Queen Inye of Yi (仁睿太后李氏, 인예태후이씨, ?-1092), and the younger brother of Sunjong (順宗, 순종, 1047-1083, r. 1083) who died within two months of his ascension. His reign saw great stability and peace throughout the Goryeo realm. On the domestic front, King Seonjong greatly contributed to the further development of Buddhism. In 1084, he established service examinations for Buddhist monks (僧科, 승과). The King had his brother Euicheon (義天, 의천, 1055-1101) import Buddhist works from China. In commemoration of his mother’s death in 1089, he constructed a thirteen story tall golden pagoda on palace grounds, leading to some resentment among common people. On the diplomatic front, King Seonjong managed peaceful relations with the Jurchens (女眞, 여진), Khitan (契丹, 거란) Liao dynasty (遼, 요, 907-1125), and the Song dynasty (宋, 송, 960-1279). On a few occasions, the King dispatched emissaries to the Liao dynasty to negotiate the halting of operations of markets (榷場, 각장) monopolizing trade near the border, and sent troops to reinforce forts along the Yalu river. He also sent diplomats to the Song dynasty to learn and adopt Confucianism and the civil bureaucratic structure. King Seonjong became ill in 1092 and died two years later at the age of forty-five.

The King was recognized for his intelligence and comprehension of Chinese classics from an early age. He enjoyed composing poems, only a few of which still remain. One of these is the earliest surviving Lyric Poetry or Ci (詞, 사) by a Korean author. It has a definite year, month, and even day. The poem is also remarkably reflective of how cosmopolitan Classical Chinese was. King Seonjong wrote the poem for a Khitan envoy who was sent to attend the King’s birthday. In the poem, the King shows not only his gratitude but also his intent to maintain peace between the two formerly warring peoples.

己巳年 九月
기사년 구월

Ninth Month (1089)

乙亥, 遼遣永州管內觀察使楊璘來, 賀生辰.
을해, 료견영천관내관찰사양린래, 하생신.

On the Eulhae day (乙亥, 을해), a Liao dynasty Surveillance Commissioner of Yingzhou (永州管內觀察使, 영주관내관찰사), Yang Lin (楊璘, 양린), arrived to celebrate the King’s birthday.

  • 永州(영주) – Located in present day Inner Mongolia (内蒙古, 내몽고).

丁丑, 以天元節, 宴遼使于乾德殿, 王製:
정축, 이천원절, 연료사우건덕전, 왕제:

On the Jeongchuk day (丁丑, 정축), as it was the Feast of the Heavenly Origin (天元節, 천원절), the Liao dynasty commissioner was invited to a banquet at the Hall of Celestial Virtue (乾德殿, 건덕전). The King wrote:

  • 天元節(천원절) – Term used to refer to the birthday of a monarch during King Seonjong’s reign.

添聲楊柳枝 첨성양류지
賀聖朝詞 하성조사

To the Tune of Adding Sounds to the Willow Tree Branches:
Congratulating the Holy Court

露冷風高秋夜淸 로랭풍고추야청 仄仄平平平仄平(韻)
月華明 월화명 仄平平(韻)
披香殿裏欲三更 피향전리욕삼경 平平仄仄仄平平(韻)
沸歌聲 비가성 仄平平(韻)

The dew becomes cold, the winds high, and the autumn night clear.
The moon is splendidly bright.
All inside the Hall of Spread Fragrance (披香殿, 피향전) wish for the three strikes of the bell,
But it is teeming with the noise of singing.

Dew • cool • wind • high • autumn • night • clear
Moon • brilliant • bright
To spread • fragrance • hall • inside • to wish • three • again
To teem • songs • sounds

擾擾人生都似幻 요요인생도사환 仄仄平平平仄仄
莫貪榮 막탐영 仄平平(韻)
好將美醁滿金觥 호장미록만금굉 仄平仄仄仄平平(韻)
暢歡情 창환정 仄平平(韻)

Clamorous and boisterous, mankind’s life is all but a fantasy.
Therefore, do not covet glory.
Instead, enjoy the delectable ale filling the golden horn-chalice,
And be at ease in joviality and merriment!

Noisy • noisy • mankind • life • all • as if • fantasy
Do not • to covet • glory
To like • to intend • beautiful • wine • to fill • golden • horn cup
To be free • to be joyous • emotion


  • A Variant on Adding Sounds to the Willow Tree Branches (Tiansheng Yangliuzhi), titled Era of Great Peace (太平時, 태평시), has two verses of forty characters in total (雙調四十字). The former verse is four lines with four plain tone rimes (前段四句四平韻). The latter verse also is four lines but with three plain tone rimes (後段四句三平韻). The plain tone rime used throughout the poem is 庚(경). As described in the Imperial Compilation of Lyric Poetry Rubrics (欽定詞譜, 흠정사보):

又一體, 雙調四十字, 前段四句四平韻, 後段四句三平韻.
O仄平平O仄韻, 仄平韻, O平平仄仄平韻, 仄平韻
O仄O平平仄仄, 仄平韻, O平平仄仄平韻, 仄平韻


Imperial Compilation of Lyric Poetry Rubrics (Ctext)

Imperial Compilation of Lyric Poetry Rubrics (欽定詞譜, 흠정사보) (Source)


Various genres of Classical Chinese poetry are associated with various eras of Chinese history. Lyric Poetry or Ci (詞, 사) is synonymous with the Song dynasty (宋, 송, 960-1279) as the genre reached its apogee then (and entered Korea). This form, however, was first developed during the Tang dynasty (唐, 당, 618-907) from an earlier form of Chinese poetry known as Music Bureau Poetry (樂府, 악부). Like its predecessor, Lyric Poetry was originally lyrics fit into actually sung tunes. The process of matching characters to the tune is referred to as “filling the lyrics (塡詞, 전사).” Over the ages, the music for the tunes were lost, but the lyrics remained and became the basis for future poems in the genre. Other names for Lyric Poetry include “Other than a Poem” (詩餘, 시여), “Long-Short Verses” (長短句, 장단구), “Relying on Tones” (依聲, 의성), and “Tune” (曲子, 곡자), among many others.

Form & Structure

All Lyric Poetry follow rubrics (詞牌, 사패) with tune titles (詞調, 사조) that specify the number of characters in total (句數, 구수), number of characters per verse (字數, 자수), rime for each line (押韻, 압운), and tone for each character (平仄, 평측 or 聲, 성). Tunes shorter than 58 characters are known as “Xiaoling” (小令, 소령), between 59 and 90 “Medium Melodies” (調, 중조), and beyond “Long Melodies” (長調, 장조) or “Gentle Songs” (慢詞, 만사). Furthermore, in contrast to Recent Style Poetry (近體詩, 근체시) that also developed during the Tang dynasty, the lines of Lyric Poetry can be of uneven length. One line can have anywhere between one to nine characters, with lines ranging from three to seven characters being the most common. In addition, its tones are much more variable than Recent Style Poetry. Note that there are four tones in Classical Chinese: plain tone (平聲, 평성), rising tone (上聲, 상성), departing tone (去聲, 거성), and entering tone (入聲, 입성), the last three of which are collectively referred to as oblique tones (仄聲, 측성). In Lyric Poetry, lines can end in multiple, differing rimes (換韻, 환운 or 叶韻, 협운), including oblique tone rimes (仄韻, 측운). Some rubrics also go beyond identifying whether a character is to be plain or oblique tone and particularize whether the character is to be plain, rising, departing, or entering tone. Poets, however, were a bit more flexible, often employing near rimes (通韻, 통운) and making slight modifications in the number of characters per line.

The Imperial Compilation of Lyric Poetry Rubrics, compiled during the reign of the Qing Dynasty’s Kangxi Emperor (康熙帝, 강희제, 1654-1722, r. 1661-1722), lists 826 tunes (調, 조) with 2306 variations (體, 체) in total for Lyric Poetry rubrics. As an example, the tune for Thinking of the Handmaiden’s Tenderness (念奴嬌, 염노교) is specified as the following:

雙調一百字, 前後段各十句, 四仄韻

Two verses with one hundred characters. Former and latter verses are each ten lines with four oblique rimes. (“O” can be either plain or oblique.)



The famous Song dynasty poet Su Shi (蘇軾, 소식 1037-1101) composed a Lyric Poem to this tune with slight tweaks.


To the Tune of Thinking of the Handmaiden’s Tenderness (Nian Nujiao):
Remembering the Battle of Red Cliffs

大江東去 대강동거 仄平平仄
浪淘盡 千古風流人物 랑도진 천고풍류인물 仄平仄 平仄平平平仄(韻)
故壘西邊 고루서변 仄仄平平
人道是 三國周郞赤壁 인도시 삼국주랑적벽 平仄仄 平仄平平仄仄(韻)
亂石崩雲 란석붕운 仄仄平平
驚濤裂岸 경도렬안 平平仄仄
捲起千堆雪 권기천퇴설 仄仄平平仄(韻)
江山如畵 강산여화 平平平仄
一時多少豪傑 일시다소호걸 仄平平仄平仄(韻)

The great river flows away to the east,
Its waves billowing, washing away the thousands of ancient honorable figures.
Upon the old citadel’s western bank,
People recall the Three Kingdom’s Zhou Yu (周瑜, 주유, 172-210) and Red Cliffs:
Boulders broke into the clouds and
Raging waves tore into the shores,
Rolling up thousands of heaps as though snow.
The rivers and mountains were as if a painting:
All at once, a number of heroic men.

遙想公瑾當年 요상공근당년 平仄平仄平平
小喬初嫁了 소교초가료 仄平平平仄
雄姿英發 웅자영발 平平平仄(韻)
羽扇綸巾 우선륜건 仄仄平平
談笑閒 强虜灰飛煙滅 담소한 강로회비연멸 平仄平 平仄平平平仄(韻)
故國神游 고국신유 仄仄平平
多情應笑我 다정응소아 平平仄仄仄
早生華髮 조생화발 仄平平仄(韻)
人間如夢 인간여몽 平平平仄
一尊還酹江月 일준환뢰강월 仄平平仄平仄(韻)

From a far, think of Gongjin that very year,
After he first married Xiao Qiao (小喬, 소교),
His gallant pose and his valiant radiance.
With a feathered fan, a silk-thread hood,
And levity of chattery laughter, his mighty foes turned into fluttering ashes and dispersed smoke.
To the old country, my spirit journeys;
Many sentiments indeed make me laugh,
With my early life and my graying hair.
Mankind is as if a dream:
One goblet of wine is again poured onto the river’s moonlight.

  • Gongjin (公瑾, 공근) is Zhou Yu’s courtesy name (字, 자).
  • Xiao Qiao (小喬, 소교, ?) was Zhou Yu’s wife.
  • This poem employs near rimes, all of which are in the entering tone, not present in Mandarin. The riming characters are: 物(물), 壁(벽), 雪(설), 傑(걸), 發(발), 滅(멸), 髮(발), and 月(월). The character 物 falls under the riming character 物(물). The character 壁 is the most divergent from the other riming characters, as it has a /-k/ (ㄱ) terminal consonant and falls under the riming character 錫(석). The character 雪 falls under the riming character 屑(설). The remaining characters 傑, 滅, 髮, and 月 fall under the riming character 月(월).
  • Korean translation available here.

Additional Sources:

(欽定詞譜, 흠정사보) (Source)

Imperial Compilation of Lyric Poetry Rubrics (欽定詞譜, 흠정사보) (Source)

I am only a hobbyist in Classical Chinese. As such, I have large blind spots that those formally educated in the subject might not have. For example, last year I was introduced to Lyric Poetry or Ci (詞, 사) by a subscriber and fellow blogger, Khoái Nhị Trà (快貳茶, 쾌이차). Previously, whenever I had come across them, I thought they were Archaic Style Poetry (古體詩, 고체시) in contrast to the familiar Recent Style Poetry (近體詩, 근체시). I did not realize that Lyric Poetry constituted such a substantial genre in Classical Chinese poetry and was marked by a definite structure.

To learn more, I started reading online sources in Korean about this genre and an anthology of Song dynasty Lyric Poetry with side-by-side original text and Korean translation. There were some aspects that I found familiar from my readings about Recent Style Poetry, but even more aspects that were new and different. As I became more and more accustomed with Lyric Poetry, I started wondering about how Korean poets had composed in this form. Surprisingly, I found that there are not that many Korean sources online on Lyric Poetry by Korean poets — at least not in an organized manner.

I thought it would be beneficial for others interested in this subject as well as my own further acquisition of the genre to examine Lyric Poetry by Korean poets using this blog. In the subsequent series of posts, I will explain the structure and form of Lyric Poetry and translate works from the following poets:

  • King Seonjong of Goryeo (高麗宣宗, 고려선종, 1049-1094, r. 1083-1094)
  • Yi Gyubo (李奎報, 이규보, 1164-1241)
  • Yi Jehyeon (李齊賢, 이제현, 1287-1367)
  • Won Cheonseok (元天錫, 원천석, 1338-?)
  • Kwon Geun (權近, 권근, 1352-1409)
  • Kim Shiseup (金時習, 김시습, 1435-1493)
  • Heo Nanseolheon (許蘭雪軒, 허난설헌,  1563-1589)
  • Heo Gyun (許筠, 허균, 1569-1618)
  • Jeong Yakyong (丁若鏞, 정약용, 1762-1836)
  • Kim Yunshik (金允植, 김윤식, 1835-1922)

I might add or subtract authors from this series. Since I am fairly new to Lyric Poetry, any suggestions to my translations or any other form of assistance will be welcome.


Hangul nationalists protesting at the Korean Constitutional Court, which held a public hearing on the Korean government’s “Hangul-Only” Policy dating back to the military dictatorship period. (Source)


One rhetoric that is often employed by Korean Hangul supremacists against Hanja is that Chinese characters are somehow a Japanese legacy. Just to give to examples, the statistic that Sino-Korean words account for 60-70% of the Korean vocabulary is routinely denounced as a Japanese fabrication implanted by the Japanese colonial administration and Hanja-Hangul mixed script is often condemned as a Japanese creation imposed upon the Korean populace — presumably because of its similarity to modern Japanese orthography. While both are demonstrably false, this type of rhetoric is so common that one could easily come away with the impression that Hanja is a Japanese creation from reading their materials.

More distressingly, these baseless assertions can be found from people of relatively respectable positions in Korean society. The head of the Hangul Society (한글학회), one of the most influential and well-established Korean language associations, for example, shares similar sentiments:

한자병기는 일제가 심어 놓은 민족의식 말살 교육정책의 찌꺼기. 지금 일본이 큰소리치는 것은 한국을 너무 잘 알기 때문이다. 일본이 가르친 대로의 친일의 뿌리가 득세하고 있기 때문이다. 한글 관련 사업을 좀 해보려고 하면 친일세력들이 들어와서 판을 흐트려 놓는다…

Hanja-Hangul mixed script is a leftover of the educational policy planted by the Japanese to obliterate our racial identity. Right now, the Japanese shout so loudly because they know Korea very well. It is because the pro-Japanese collaborators who have done as the Japanese have taught them have gained power. If you intend to work on Hangul-related manners, these powerful pro-Japanese collaborators will shake you down…

Remember, this is not some random troll in a dark corner of the Internet. This is the head of a major Korean language association spewing conspiratorial rantings. And he is not an isolated case. Hangul supremacists can be found at protests screaming at the top of their longs accusing those who want to expand Hanja education as being pro-Japanese collaborators

Ironically, however, Hangul supremacists will not condemn actual collaborators that they perceive contributed to the advancement of Hangul. No, they brazenly genuflect in front of them. For instance, they praise Yi Gwangsu (李光洙, 이광수, 1892-1950) for being the “Father of Modern Korean Literature” and one of the earliest proponents of the “pure Korean script.” Hangul supremacists happily overlook the fact that he was a zealous supporter of Japanese policies for assimilating Koreans. Even hyper-nationalist North Korea does not mind his collaborations with the Japanese colonial government, and has enshrined him at a cemetery in Pyongyang with other Korean independence activists.

This dissonance partly has to do with their belief that Hangul is an embodiment of “pure” Korean-ness. In their world view, they cannot fathom that the Japanese would have had any hand in the script. Any efforts to aid Hangul is deified and any attempts at expanding Hanja is unforgivable perfidy.

A Brief History of the Development of Korean Spelling Rules

But Hangul too has been heavily influenced by Japanese colonial rule. To get of sense of the degree of influence, today’s Korean spelling rules are almost identical from the ones promulgated by the Japanese colonial General Government. (While this fact might be lost on many Hangul supremacists, most Korean sources on this subject do not deny this.) A look at how Korean spelling developed from its inception through the early modern period will make this point evident.

Dongguk Jeongun

A Chinese character dictionary arranged by tone and rime, the Proper Rimes of the Eastern Country (東國正韻, 동국정운) was one of the very first works published in the Korean alphabet. The still-in-use ㅉ and now-obsolete ㆆ (glottal stop) were originally intended for transcribing Korean and Mandarin pronunciations of Chinese characters. (Source)

Korean Spelling from King Sejong to the Late 19th Century

In 1446, King Sejong introduced Hangul with the publication of Proper Sounds to Instruct the People (訓民正音, 훈민정음). This work laid out twenty-eight letters. In order, they were:

  • Consonants (17): ㄱ (g), ㅋ (k), ㆁ (ng), ㄷ (d), ㅌ (t), ㄴ (n), ㅂ (b), ㅍ (p), ㅁ (m), ㅈ (j), ㅊ (ch), ㅅ (s), ㆆ (ʔ, glottal stop), ㅎ (h), ㅇ (null), ㄹ (r/l), and ㅿ (z).
  • Vowels (11): ㆍ (aw), ㅡ (eu), ㅣ(i), ㅗ (o), ㅏ (a), ㅜ (u), ㅓ (eo), ㅛ (yo), ㅑ (ya), ㅠ (yu), and ㅕ (yeo)

The work also explicated how each letter is to be pronounced and how the letters are to be combined to form syllable blocks. It even specified provisions for sounds that did not exist in native Korean, but Sino-Korean and vernacular Chinese (e.g., ㅱ for “w”). The Proper Sounds, however, did not give any detailed spelling rules. Its examples assumed that Korean would be spelled phonemically using the new alphabet (i.e., how they sounded). The only concrete spelling rule it proscribed was the Eight Terminal Consonants Rule (八終聲可足用, 팔종성가족용). Under this rule, only ㄱ, ㆁ, ㄷ, ㄴ, ㅂ, ㅁ, ㅅ, and ㄹ were to be used in the terminal position of a syllable (받침).

After the Proper Sounds, the next seminal work on Korean spelling the Collection of Chinese Characters to Teach the Ignorant (訓蒙字會, 훈몽자회) published in 1527 by Choe Sejin (崔世珍, 최세진, 1468-1542). The Collection of Characters systematically listed some 3,360 Chinese characters by their Korean pronunciations and meanings. Although published eighty-one years later, the work laid out different spelling rules than those of the Proper Sounds. For example, the letter ㆆ had dropped out, the distinction between ㅇ and ㆁ was lost, and some of the specific provisions for Sino-Korean and vernacular Chinese sounds were absent. It also added new rules and provisions to Korean, such as listing the alphabet in a different order with names:

  • Voiceless Consonants: ㄱ(其役, 기역), ㄴ(尼隱, 니은),ㄷ(池末, 디귿), ㄹ(利乙, 리을), ㅁ(眉音, 미음), ㅂ(非邑, 비읍), ㅅ(時衣, 시옷), and ㆁ(異凝, 이응)
  • Voiced Consonants: ㅋ(箕, 키), ㅌ(治, 티), ㅍ(皮, 피), ㅈ(之, 지), ㅊ(齒, 치), ㅿ(而, ㅿㅣ), ㅇ(伊, 이), and ㅎ(屎, 히)
  • Vowels:  ㅏ(阿, 아), ㅑ(也, 야), ㅓ(於, 어), ㅕ(余, 여), ㅗ(吾, 오), ㅛ(要, 요), ㅜ(牛, 우), ㅠ(由, 유), ㅡ(應, 응),ㅣ(伊, 이), and · (思, ㅅ·)

The Collection of Characters, however, maintained some of the rules as laid out in the Proper Sounds. It kept the Eight Terminal Consonants Rule and still assumed that Korean was to be spelled phonemically.

In the subsequent three centuries, Korean spelling rules only saw incremental changes, largely aligning with changes in how Korean was spoken. Some of the changes included:

  • Disuse of the letter ㅿ and ㆁ
  • Adding of ㅺ, ㅼ, ㅽ, ㅾ, and ㅄ for tense sounds (된소리), which probably did not exist in 15th century Korean (while ㄲ, ㄸ, ㅃ, ㅆ, and ㅉ did exist, they did not originally denote those sounds)
  • Disuse of  ㄷ as a terminal sound (solely using ㅅ) by a substantial number of Korean writers

One characteristic that did not change was that Korean throughout this period was still spelled phonemically, although there were discrepancies between the spelling and pronunciation.


Published in 1908, the Book for Teaching Children (兒學編, 아학편) listed definitions of Chinese characters in Korean, Japanese, and English and also pronunciations of the Japanese, Mandarin, and English words in Hangul. Note the use of “ᅋ” (f) to spell “father,” “female,” and “wife.” Koreans today often make fun of themselves not being able to spell (or pronounce) English “f” and “v” sounds. Many might be shocked to find out that their great-grandparents’ Hangul allowed for spelling such sounds. (Source)

1894, Hangul Finally Becomes the National Script of Korea

Phonemic spelling of Korean, however, did not eliminate ambiguity. The same word could be spelled many different ways. This actually made Hangul-only texts more difficult to read than mixed script texts. For example, the word 덮으면 (“if one covers”) in modern spelling could be spelled at least three ways under the conventional spelling of this time: 더퍼면, 덥허면, 덥프면. How a Korean word was spelled was up to the whims of the individual printer  for that particular day or hour.

With Hangul becoming the “National Script” (國字, 국자) of Korea in 1894, the necessity of a clear, set spelling rules became soon apparent. This need was compounded by the fact that there were several, different attempts at formulating such rules by private individuals. One notable individual was a doctor named Ji Seokyeong (池錫永, 지석영, 1855-1935) who submitted his own rules to the court. His proposals (新訂國文, 신정국문) included:

  • Spelling of tense consonants with ㄲ, ㄸ, ㅃ, ㅆ, and ㅉ
  • Adding ᅄ and ᅋ to denote “v” and “f” sounds
  • Replacing arae a (·) (아래 아) with =

The controversy grew. Some wanted Korean to be spelled morphophonemically (somewhat phonetic spelling reflective of the underlying etymological root). Others wanted Korean to be spelled like the European languages in a string. One notable development that was widely adopted and stuck was word spacing.

In 1907, the Korean government (now a protectorate of Japan) responded by establishing the National Script Research Committee (國文硏究所, 국문연구소) to examine this problem. Its members, some of whom were pro-Japanese collaborators, met several times to discuss standardization of Korean spelling. In 1909, they laid out their plans in the National Script Research Committee’s Proposals (國文硏究議定案, 국문연구의정안). At the time, these were considered radical:

  • Maintenance of the formation of letters into syllable blocks
  • Not restoring the use of obsolete consonants (ㆁ, ㆆ,  ㅿ,  ◇ , ㅱ, ㅸ, ㆄ, and ㅹ )
  • Adoption of spelling of tense consonant as ㄲ, ㄸ, ㅃ , ㅆ,  and ㅉ
  • Maintenance of the letter ㆍ
  • Adding a dot to the side of a syllable to indicate vowel length
  • Allowing the use of ㅈ, ㅊ, ㅋ, ㅌ, ㅍ, and ㅎ as terminal consonants
  • Adoption of the names for the consonant letters as 이응, 기윽, 니은, 디읃, 리을,  미음, 비읍, 시읏,  지읒, 히읗, 키읔, 티읕, 피읖, 치읓
  • Adoption of the order of consonants as ㆁ, ㄱ,  ㄴ,  ㄷ,  ㄹ,  ㅁ , ㅂ,  ㅅ,  ㅈ,  ㅎ,  ㅋ,  ㅌ,  ㅍ,  ㅊ
  • Adoption of the order of vowels as ㅏ,  ㅑ,  ㅓ,  ㅕ , ㅗ , ㅛ , ㅜ,  ㅠ,  ㅡ , ㅣ,  ㆍ

These spelling rules never officially adopted. Within months of the release of the 1909 Proposals, Korea was annexed by Japan. The debate over Korean orthography would, however, continue. Read More


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