The Korean Constitutional Court ruled 6-3 that the limits on Chinese characters permitted in personal names (人名用漢字, 인명용 한자) are constitutional. These restrictions were first introduced in 1990, as family records maintained by the government were being digitized. The original list only included 2,731 characters. Over the years, the Court has gradually increased the number of permissible characters to 8,142 characters as of last year. Korean Family Law specifies that only Hangul and “commonly used” Chinese characters are permitted in personal names and that the Constitutional Court is to define which characters are allowable.

The restrictions on Chinese characters allowed in personal names was very controversial when first introduced and has been challenged a number of times ever since. In the most recent case, the challenger attempted to use the character 嫪(로) (“to long for”) to name their child. Since the character was outside the list of permitted characters, they were only allowed to record the name in Hangul. The family sued and argued that the restrictions on characters are unconstitutional, because they are a restraint on the freedom to name one’s child and their right to pursuit of happiness.

The majority of the Court, however, disagreed and concluded that the restrictions are constitutional. They noted that the number of people who do not know Chinese characters has increased, and that using rare characters will lead to errors in keeping digital records and recognizing people’s names, causing inconvenience for people with complicated names. The majority added that restrictions on Chinese characters permitted in personal names are “unavoidable” due to technological constraints. The minority countered, pointing out that any such constraints in digitizing records that might have been true in 1990 are no longer existent.

Currently, if any part of a name is not one of the Chinese characters on the list, then it is considered a “pure Hangul” name. Korean identification cards in such instances will only give the Hangul transcriptions, not Hanja and Hangul mixed. As such, although the percentage of Koreans with “pure Hangul” names has been reportedly increasing, this figure might be inflated. A subset of such names are intended to be combinations of “pure Korean” and Chinese characters. Earlier this year, a couple tried registering their daughter’s name as “贇별(윤별).” Even though 贇 is on the list of permissible characters, the couple was forced to register only in Hangul, because it was a mix of Hangul and Hanja. Another subset are cases like the one above, in which at least one character in the name is not on the list of permitted characters. The vast majority of Korean names are still entirely in Hanja.

(On a related note, I would like to also point out that “pure Korean” names in use now, while sometimes haughtily presented as “traditional,” are not anything like actual, historically used “pure Korean” names.)



New Tales of the Golden Terrapin (金鰲新話, 금오신화) (Source)

Kim Shiseup (金時習, 김시습, 1435-1493) was a Chosun dynasty Confucian and Buddhist scholar. He was of the Gangreung Kim Clan (江陵金氏, 강릉김씨); his courtesy name (字, 자) was Yeolgyeong (悅卿, 열경); his pen name (號, 호) was Maeweoldang (梅月堂, 매월당) among many others; his dharma name (法名, 법명) was Seoljam (雪岑, 설잠); his posthumous name (諡, 시) was Cheonggan (淸簡, 청간). Born to a military family in Seoul, Kim Shiseup was immediately recognized as a child prodigy. He learned how to read at eight-months old and composed his first Classical Chinese poem at the age of three. (I suspect Kim Shiseup may have been a high-functioning autistic savant, as he suffered from stuttering all his life and was not very sociable.) News of his genius soon traveled around Seoul and reached the court. When Kim Shiseup was just five years old, King Sejong (世宗, 세종, 1397-1450, r. 1418-1450) invited him to the Royal Secretariat (承政院, 승정원) to write poetry. While the King did not personally meet him, he gave Kim Shiseup silk cloth as a gift. Because of this monumental event, he received the nickname “the five year old (五歲, 오세).” Others poking fun of him would later twist his nickname to “arrogant toward the world (傲世, 오세)” as a pun. In 1452, after the three-year mourning period for his mother, Kim Shiseup married a woman from another gentry family, but still feeling downcast decided to enter a Buddhist monastery to study Buddhism. While at the monastery, he heard news that Prince Suyang (首陽大君, 수양대군) had usurped the throne from his nephew King Danjong (端宗, 단종, 1441-1457, r. 1452-1455) to become King Sejo (世祖, 세조, 1417-1468, r. 1455-1468). He lamented the situation, and burned all his writings and books. Kim Shiseup then received tonsure and became a Buddhist monk. Since he survived King Sejo’s purges, he would later become known as one of the “Six Surviving Ministers (生六臣, 생육신).” For some number of years, Kim Shiseup traveled vagabond around the countryside, but eventually became a hermit on Mount Geumo (山, 금오산) near Gyeongju (慶州, 경주). In 1471, after King Sejo and his successor passed away, he decided to move to a mountain near the capital. Ten years later in 1481, Kim Shiseup gave up being a Buddhist monk (還俗, 환속) and married again. Soon after, however, when Lady Yoon (淑儀尹氏, 숙의 윤씨, 1455-1482) was dethroned for scratching the face of the monarch, Kim Shiseup again fled from the capital to wander around the countryside. He passed away in 1493 from illness with no children. 

Throughout his life, he was renowned for his poetry and writing. During his vagabond years on Mount Geumo from 1465 to 1471, Kim Shiseup wrote several works on Confucianism and Buddhism in an attempt to resolve the two, when the latter was deemed by many of his contemporary intellectuals as heterodox. It was also during this time period that he authored what is considered to be the first ever Korean novel, the New Tales of the Golden Terrapin (金鰲新話, 금오신화) . Written in Classical Chinese, this work is a collection of six stories, containing a mix of prose and poetry. Two of the poems in this novel are Lyric Poetry or Ci (詞, 사), one of which is from the first story in the novel, Playing Jeopo at the Temple of Ten-Thousand Fortunes (萬福寺摴蒲記, 만복사저포기). In this story, an old man named Yang (梁生, 양생), who lost his parents at an early age, laments his bachelor status. At a nearby Buddhist temple, Yang bets with Buddha to grant him a wife, throwing betting sticks used in the board-game Jeopo (摴蒲, 저포), and wins. The next day, a young woman shows up to the temple to supplicate for her parents that were killed in a raid by Japanese pirates (倭寇, 왜구). They both converse and welcome each other, and become husband and wife.

生雖疑怪, 談笑淸婉, 儀貌舒遲, 意必貴家處子, 踰墻而出, 亦不之疑也.
생수의괴, 담소청완, 의모서지, 의필귀가처자, 유장이출, 역불지의야.

Although Master [Yang] doubted and thought it was strange — [the young handmaiden’s] laughter was clear and elegant; her appearance as leisurely and composed –, he thought to himself that she must have come from a rich household, and stepped over a wall to escape. He then stopped doubting.

觴進, 命侍兒, 歌以侑之, 謂生曰: “兒定仍舊曲, 請自製一章以侑, 如何?”
상진, 명시아, 가이유지, 위생왈: “아정잉구곡, 청자제일장이유, 여하?”

With a chalice of wine put forward, he directed the handmaiden to sing to enliven [the aura]. Calling Master [Yang], she said, “This young one can only fit to old tunes. Please write one verse to suggest for enlivening [the aura]. Would you?”

生欣然應之曰: “諾.” 乃製滿江紅一闋, 命侍兒歌之, 曰:
생흔연응지왈: “락.” 내제만강홍일결, 명시아가지, 왈:

Master Yang was enthralled and responded, “Certainly!” He then wrote one verse of the tune Filling the River Red (滿江紅, 만강홍) and directed the young handmaiden to sing it:


To the Tune of Filling the River Red:
Sorrowful and Doleful, Chilly Spring

惻惻春寒 측측춘한 仄仄平平
羅衫薄 라삼박 平平仄
幾回腸斷 기회창단 仄平平仄(韻)
金鴨冷 금압랭 平仄仄
晩山凝黛 만산응대 仄平平仄
暮雲張繖 모운장산 仄平平仄(韻)
錦帳鴛衾無與伴 금장원금무여반 平仄平平平仄仄(韻)
寶釵半倒吹龍管 보채반도취룡관 仄平仄仄平平仄(韻)
可惜許 가석허 仄仄仄
光陰易跳丸 광음이도환 平平仄仄平
中情懣 중정만 平平仄(韻)

Sorrowful and doleful, the spring is chilly;
My silk jacket is thin.
How many times have I had my liver cut?
My golden duck-shaped burner grows cold;
Eventide mountains congeal as if eyebrow paint;
Dusk clouds open up as though an umbrella.
Upon silken curtains and feathered quilts, I have no companions to be together with:
The precious hairpin half-turned calls for the dragon-shaped pipe.
Oh, how pitiful this is!
Light and darkness easily bolt away as if a pellet.
My inner emotions remain dejected.

  • 腸斷(창단) – Literally, “to cut a liver.” Refers to heartbreak.
  • 金鴨(금압) – Literally, “metal duck” or “golden duck.” Refers to an incense burner in the shape of a duck.
  • 光陰(광음) – Literally “light and shadow.” Refers to time.

燈無焰 등무염 平平仄
銀屛短 은병단 平平仄(韻)
徒收淚 도수루 平平仄
誰從款 수종관 平平仄(韻)
喜今宵鄒律 희금소추률 仄平平平仄
一吹回暖 일취회난 仄平平仄(韻)
破我佳城千古恨 파아가성천고한 仄仄平平平仄仄(韻)
細歌金縷傾銀椀 세가금루경은완 仄平平仄平平仄(韻)
悔昔時 회석시 仄仄平
抱恨蹙眉兒 포한축미아 仄仄仄平平
眠孤館 면고관 平平仄(韻)

The lamp has no flame;
The silver folding-screen is short.
My lonely collected tears,
Who will follow and like?
Jovial, tonight’s Chu’s tunes (鄒律, 추률),
Once played, bring back the warmth,
And smash the resentments of the thousands of ancients in our beautiful town.
The delicate song, the Golden Silk-thread (金縷曲, 금루곡), overturns my silver bowl.
Regretting the times of the past,
I embrace resentment, with a worried frown.
And I slumber in my lonely room.


  • The poem follows the a variant of tune, Filling the River Red (Manjianghong). The variant is Spring Waters Connects with the Heavens (春水連天, 춘수연천). Its rubric has two verses of ninety three characters in total (雙調九十三字). The former verse has eight lines with five oblique tone rimes (前段八句五仄韻). The latter verse has ten lines with six oblique tone rimes (後段十句六仄韻). The oblique tone rime used throughout the poem is 旱(한). As described in the Imperial Compilation of Lyric Poetry Rubrics (欽定詞譜, 흠정사보):

雙調九十三字, 前段八句五仄韻, 後段十句六仄韻

平仄平平, 平平仄, 仄平平仄(韻), 平仄仄, 仄平平仄, 仄平平仄(韻), 仄仄平平平仄仄(韻), 仄平仄仄平平仄(韻), 仄仄平, 平仄仄平平, 平平仄(韻)

平平仄, 平平仄(韻), 平仄仄, 平平仄(韻), 仄平平平仄, 仄平平仄(韻), 平仄平平平仄仄(韻), 仄平平仄平平仄(韻), 仄仄平, 仄仄仄平平, 平平仄(韻)



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 fled deep into the woods of the mountain. 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 birds on the mountain chattering.
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:


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