Bai Juyi (白居易, 백거이, 772-846) was a Tang dynasty (唐, 당, 618-907) bureaucratic official and one of the most renowned Classical Chinese poets. His family was originally from Taiyuan (太原, 태원), Shanxi Province (山西省, 산서성), but he was born in Xinzheng (鄭, 신정), Henan Province (河南省, 하남성). His courtesy name (字, 자) was Letian (樂天, 낙천); his pen names (號, 호) were Xiangshan Jushi (香山居士, 향산거사) and Zuiyin Xiansheng (醉吟先生, 취음선생) (“Master of Drunken Poetry”). Bai Juyi was recognized for his poetry at the early age of 5. In 800, he passed the imperial civil examinations (科擧, 과거) and rose quickly through the bureaucratic ranks. In 807, he became a Hanlin Academy Scholar (翰林學士, 한림학사), and wrote Confucian-inspired tracts criticizing the government and society, some of which lead to his brief exile later. However, in 811, when both his mother and daughter passed away, he pondered about death and became very interested in Buddhism. After the three year mourning period for his mother, Bai Juyi returned to government and served in various positions, including the Assistant Secretary to the Prince’s Tutor (左夫, 좌천선태부), Provincial Inspector (刺史, 자사) of Zhongzhou (忠州, 충주), Hangzhou (杭州, 항주), and Suzhou (蘇州, 소주), and finally the Gazetteer (秘監, 비서감) on the imperial court. He finally retired in 842, and moved to a Buddhist monastery near Luoyang (洛陽, 낙양). Throughout his career, he was also a prolific writer, composing several pieces of prose and poetry. Indeed, out of all of the Tang dynasty poets, Bai Juyi not only has the most number of poems that have survived to this day, but also the most varied in breadth of topics. His earlier writings are said to have expressed optimism and romanticism, but later reflect realism. In Korea, Bai Juyi’s influence was not only limited to his prose and poetry. One of his cousins, Baek Ugyeong (白宇經, 백우경, ?-?), who became an official on the Shilla dynasty court (新羅, 신라, 57BC – 935), is the progenitor of the Suwon Baek Clan (水原白氏, 수원백씨).

The excerpt below is just one verse from his poem Where Is It Difficult to Forget About the Wine? (何處難忘酒, 하처난망주). In the series of poems, Bai Juyi — true to one of his pen names — expresses his affinity for alcohol. The first line (“Where is it difficult to forget about the wine?”) and seventh line (“At this time, if one did not even have one cup [of wine]”) are repeated throughout each verse in the poem. The excerpt also alludes to the Vernal Equinox (春分, 춘분), which marks the days when the Sun reaches the celestial longitude of 0 to 15 degrees. As a solar term, it falls around March 20 of every year on the Western Gregorian Calendar but varies on the Chinese Lunar Calendar. In ancient China, the Vernal Equinox also marked the day when swallows returned from the south and the first thunderstorms could be heard.

何處難忘酒 하처난망주

Where Is It Difficult to Forget About the Wine? (Third Verse)

何處難忘酒 하처난망주  Where is it difficult to forget about the wine?
朱門羨少年 주문선소년  Behind the vermilion doors, the rich grow jealous of the young.
春分花發後 춘분화발후  After the Vernal Equinox’s flowers bloom,
寒食月明前 한식월명전  The Cold Food Festival’s bright moon will lead.
小院廻羅綺 소원회라기  In the small courtyard, the sleeves of silk are swirled about;
深房理管弦 심방리관현  Within the secluded room, the reeds and zither are tuned.
此時無一盞 차시무일잔  At this time, if one did not have even one cup for wine,
爭過豔陽天 쟁과염양천  How can he pass by this elegant and lush day?


Which • place • difficult • to forget • wine
Red • doors • to be jealous • youth • years
Spring • divide • flowers • to blossom • after
Cold • food • bright • moon • to lead
Small • garden • to spin • to lay out • silk
Deep • room • to handle • pipe • zither
This • time • to not have • one • wine cup
To quarrel • to pass • beautiful • warm • days


  • Pentasyllabic regulated poem (五言律詩, 오언율시). Riming character (韻, 운) is 先(선).
  • 朱門(주문) – Literally “red doors.” Refers to an affluent household.
  • 寒食(한식) – The Cold Food Festival falls on April 5.
  • 前(전) – Here means “to lead” or “to proceed.”
  • Korean translation available here.

Songs of Dragons Flying to Heaven (龍飛御天歌, 용비어천가), the very first work published using Hangul. Note that the very first verse is in mixed script. (Source)


With the announcement that Hanja will return to elementary school textbooks by 2018, there has been a flurry of denouncements around Korean print media. One of the frequent arguments that Hangul supremacists and exclusivists use against Hangul-Hanja mixed script (國漢文混用, 국한문혼용) is that it is a legacy of Japanese colonialism (日帝强占期, 일제강점기 1905-1945), and therefore Hanja education also ought to wholly eliminated. An argument along these lines can be found in an op-ed in the Hankyoreh from March 3, 2015:

한자혼용이나 한자병기는 일본 식민지 교육으로 길든 일본식 말글살이다. 일본은 1910년 강제로 이 나라를 빼앗기 전부터 일본식 한자혼용 말글살이를 퍼트렸고 식민지로 만든 뒤에는 일본 한자말을 한자로 적고 일본 글자를 함께 쓰는 교과서로 교육을 했다.

Hanja mixed script or Hanja mixed writing is Japanese-style writing introduced by Japanese colonial education. Hanja-mixed script started becoming widespread before 1910 when Japan forcibly stole our country, and when Korea was made a colony the Japanese colonial administration educated Koreans using textbooks with Japanese-style Hanja words and Japanese letters.

The misconception that mixed script is a Japanese creation is unfortunately widespread. What is worse is that Hangul exclusivists and supremacists frequently employ arguments connecting Hanja with the Japanese colonial period. For example, they have characterized the statistic that 60-70% of the Korean vocabulary is Sino-Korean (漢字語, 한자어) as a “Japanese lie” — even though it is well supported by various sources.

Hangul-Hanja Mixed Script Predates the Japanese Colonial Period


Vernacular Translation of the Analects (論語諺解, 논어언해), published in 1590. Many of the early works using Hangul were Korean translations of Confucian classics. Note the mixed script. (Source).

Hanja-Hangul mixed script is often portrayed as being a Japanese legacy because of its similarity to Japanese orthography. Though its use did increase during the early 20th century century and its increase then partly may have been because of the Japanese, Hangul-Hanja mixed script has had a long, continuous history in Korea. Indeed, the very first work using Hangul, Songs of Dragons Flying to Heaven (龍飛御天歌, 용비어천가), commissioned by King Sejong (世宗, 세종, 1397-1450), was in mixed script. Other well known figures in Korean history that wrote some of their work in mixed script include King Sejo (世祖, 세조, 1417-1468, r. 1455-1468), Neo-Confucian scholars Toegye Yi Hwang (退溪 李滉, 퇴계 이황, 1502-1571) and Yulgok Yi I (栗谷 李耳, 율곡 이이, 1537-1584), and the bamboo-hatted vagabond poet Kim Satgat (金笠, 김삿갓, 1807-1863). 

Pre-modern Korean translations of Confucian works even employed a form of Hangul-Hanja mixed script that is seldom seen today in which most of the substantive words were written in Hanja but the grammatical words in vernacular Hangul. This form is more similar Japanese orthography than the typical form; however, even this has historical precedent. Yulgok Yi, whose face graces 5,000 Won currency notes today, translated the Analects (論語, 논어) in this manner:

有朋自遠方來, 不亦樂乎?

朋(붕)이 遠方(원방)으로브터 오리이시면 樂(낙)흡디 아니랴?

If a friend comes from afar, is it not delightful?

Note that all the terms written in Chinese characters could have been translated into “pure” Korean, and other early Korean translations did. (Further note that Yulgok Yi I lived more than three centuries prior to the colonial period.)

  Today’s Korean Spelling Rules,
A Forgotten Legacy of the Japanese Colonial Period

Japanese Era Korean Textbook

The Korean Language Reader (朝鮮語讀本, 조선어독본), a colonial era Korean language textbook, published by the Japanese colonial administration (Source)

If Hangul supremacists and exclusivists wish to continue playing the “Japanese card,” then they ought to take a hard look at their own history — because two can play at this game. They conveniently forget that the very spelling they use in their arguments only dates back to the Japanese colonial period. While the Japanese colonial administration (朝鮮總督府, 조선총독부) did discourage the use of Korean especially after 1938, it also saw Hangul as a useful means to disseminate propaganda and sought to regulate its use.

Prior to the Japanese colonial period, there were no attempts at standardizing Korean spelling. The first were by the colonial administration, which issued two standards: the 1912 Primary School Use Korean Orthographic Rules (普通學校用諺文綴字法, 보통학교용언문철자법) and the 1930 Korean Orthographic Rules (諺文綴字法, 언문철자법). Notable changes in the 1912 rules include the abolition of the Arae a (ㆍ) and elimination of /j/-initial diphthongs in palatalized syllables (e.g., 댜 → 자, 쟈 → 자, 샤 → 사, 탸 → 차). The 1930 rules standardized the names of Korean consonants recited by Korean schoolchildren still to this day (i.e., 기역, 니은, 디귿), changed spellings of tense consonants (된소리) (e.g., ㅽ → ㅃ), and formalized final consonant spellings (받침) (e.g., ㅄ in 값).

These two standards heavily influenced the 1933 Orthographic Rules (한글 맞춤법 통일안), the basis for modern day Korean spelling in both North and South Korea. One well-documented reason why the 1933 rules are so similar to the 1912 and 1930 rules is that the organization that created them, the Chosun Language Society (朝鮮語學會, 조선어학회), collaborated with the Japanese colonial administration in coming up with the 1930 rules. That is, the very same people that sat on the colonial administration-led committee that promulgated the 1930 rules also formulated the 1933 rules.

Moreover, the society’s activities were not limited to just drafting benign spelling rules. Some of its members were pro-Japanese collaborators (親日派, 친일파). For instance, Jeong Inseop (鄭寅燮, 정인섭, j. 東原寅燮, 1905-1983), a leading member of the society who actively helped write the 1930 and 1933 rules, is formally recognized as a collaborator by a Korean government commission because of his pro-colonial propagandist activities. Other members of the society, while not on the government’s formal list, have been accused by Korean historians as being pro-Japanese collaborators. Not to mention, the term “Hangul” (한글) was coined by the independence activist turned collaborationist Choe Namseon (崔南善, 최남선, 1890-1957). (Against this backdrop, today’s successor to the Chosun Language Society, the Hangul Society (–學會, 한글학회) ironically peddles itself as the purveyor of Hangul.)


With Hanja education becoming popular once again, some Koreans are reacting with unease viewing it as a threat upon cultural identity. In their knee-jerk response, many Hangul supremacists and exclusivists argue that Hanja education ought to be eliminated because in their eyes Hangul-Hanja mixed script is legacy of the Japanese colonial period. Not only is this assertion false, its gratuitous invocation of the “pro-Japanese” label too common in general Korean discourse today needlessly detracts from actual, real grievances from the painful memories of that time period. Japan committed many atrocities on the Korean peninsula during the colonial period, but imposing mixed script and Hanja education was not one of them.

Bufo gargarizans

Bufo gargarizans also known as the Asiatic toad (두꺼비) (Source)

Wei Yingwu (韋應物, 위응물, 737-792) was a Tang dynasty (唐, 당, 618-907) bureaucrat and poet. He was born in Jingzhao (兆, 경조), Wannian (萬年, 만년), near modern day Xi’an (西安, 서안). At the age of fifteen, he became one of the Three Guardsmen (三衛郎, 삼위랑) and assisted to Emperor Xuanzong (玄宗, 현종, 685-762, r. 712-756); however, he was dismissed for poor behavior during the An Lushan Rebellion (安史之亂, 안사의 난, 755-763) that devastated China. After the rebellion, during the reign of Tang Emperor Suzong (肅宗, 숙종, 711-762, r. 756-762), he passed the imperial civil service examinations (科擧, 과거) and served in various bureaucratic positions, most notably being appointed to the successive Provincial Governorship positions (刺史, 자사) of Chuzhou (滁州, 저주), Jiangzhou (江州, 강주), and Suzhou (蘇州, 소주). Since Wei Yingwu’s last office was as Provincial Governor of Suzhou, his nickname was “Wei Suzhou.” He was also renowned for his poetry. Some five hundred thirty six poems composed by Wei Yingwu can be found in the Complete Tang Poems (全詩, 전당시), another historic anthology of Tang Dynasty poems. In particular, he was highly regarded for his pentasyllabic archaic style poetry (五言古詩, 오언고시). Wei Yingwu’s poetry was said to have been very much influenced by Tao Yuanming’s poetry (陶淵明, 도연명, 365-427), and thus was called “Tao-Wei” (陶·韋, 도·위). Another renowned Tang dynasty poet, Bai Juyi (白居易, 백거이, 772-846), gave high evaluations Wei Yingwu’s poetry, commenting that his poetry can be considered as “having achieved its own class by itself” (自體, 자성일가지체). 

In the poem below, Wei Yingwu writes about the Day of Awakening of Insects (驚蟄, 경칩). The day marks when the Sun is between the celestial longitudes of 345-360 degrees. As it is a solar term, it falls around March 5 of every year on the Western Gregorian Calendar, but varies on the Chinese Lunar Calendar. The day traditionally marked when spring’s warm air returned, along with the thunderstorms that would startle or awaken (驚, 경) insects. In Korea, it also marked when frogs and toads come out of hibernation and lay eggs in the water.

觀田家 관전가

Gazing at the Farmhouse

微雨衆卉新 미우중훼신  Fine rain renews packs of flowers.
一雷驚蟄始 일뢰경칩시  One thunder, and the Awakening of Insects begin.
田家幾日閑 전가기일한  For how many days, will the farmhouse be at leisure?
耕種從此起 경종종차기  Plowing and planting will start from now.
丁壯俱在野 정장구재야  All then men in their prime age are in the fields;
場圃亦就理 장포역취리  To the vegetable garden, they also go out to administer.
歸來景常晏 귀래경상안  When they return and come, the scene is always late;
飮犢西澗水 음독서간수  They feed the calves with the waters from the western ravines.
飢劬不自苦 기구불자고  Hungering and toiling, they do not agonize by themselves;
膏澤且爲喜 고택차위희  With oily sweat, they are gratified.
倉廩無蓄儲 창름무축저  In the silo, nothing is stored up;
徭役猶未已 요역유미이  The conscripted laborers too still have not finished.
方愧不耕者 방괴불경자  I now pity those that have not plowed;
祿食出閭里 녹식출려리  Our allowance and food comes from these hamlets and villages!


Small • rain • many • flora • new
One • thunder • to startle • insects • to begin
Rice paddy • house • how many • days • leisurely
To plow • seeds • from • this • to arise
Prime age • men • all • to reside • fields
Yard • vegetable garden • also • to go out • to administer
To return • to come • scene • always • late
Feed • calves • west • ravine • water
To hunger • to toil • not • by itself • agony
Oil • moisture •  also • to become • happy
Storage • storage • to have not •  to store •  to store
Forced labor • labor • still • not • to cease
About to • to pity • not • to plow • indefinite noun marker
Salary • food • to originate • hamlets • villages


  • Pentasyllabic archaic style poetry (五言古詩, 오언고시). Riming character (韻, 운) is 紙(지), an oblique tone (仄聲, 측성).
  • Korean translation available here.

Short Biography on Hwang Hyeon

Hwang Hyeon (黃玹, 황현, 1855-1910) was a Confucian scholar, poet, and Korean independence activist. He was of the Jangsu Hwang Clan (長水黃氏, 장수황씨); his courtesy name (字) was Un’gyeong (雲卿, 운경); and his pen name (號, 호) was Maecheon (梅泉, 매천). He was born in Gwangyang (光陽, 광양) in South Jeolla Province (全羅南道, 전라남도), and started studying Confucian texts from a young age. In 1870, he married Lady Oh of the Haeju Clan (海州吳氏, 해주오씨, ?-?), with whom he had two sons and one daughter. (Both of his sons also became Confucian scholars and independence activists.) In 1878, Hwang Hyeon moved to Seoul to study under the tutelage of Yi Geonchang (李昌, 이건창, 1852-1898), a Confucian scholar of the Yangming School of Thought (陽明學, 양명학), which was considered heterodox in Korea. In 1888, he passed the civil service examinations (科擧, 과거), but despaired at the corruption of the Chosun government and decided to rusticate soon thereafter to Gurye (求禮, 구례) near his hometown.

In Gurye, Hwang Hyeon established a den named Gu’andang (苟安堂, 구안당), and devoted himself to studying the classics. He also wrote a number of works. His most important works were his chronicles on the turmoil and numerous developments in Korea, which he started writing in 1894 in reaction to the Donghak Peasant Revolt (東學農民運動, 동학농민운동), Gabo Reforms (甲午改革, 갑오개혁), and the First Sino-Japanese War (淸日戰爭, 청일전쟁), all of which occurred that year. His chronicles include the Unofficial Records of Maecheon (梅泉野錄, 매천야록), Records of the Hearsay Under the Paulowonia Tree (梧下紀聞, 오하기문), and Collection of Maecheon’s Writings (集, 매천집). In addition, he composed over 1,000 Classical Chinese poems (漢詩, 한시).

First Sino-Japanese War

Japanese troops marching through the countryside in Korea during the First Sino-Japanese War (淸日戰爭, 청일전쟁) (Source)

Assorted Compositions on the First Full Moon Festival

Sometime during the first months of 1906, Hwang Hyeon wrote Assorted Compositions on the First Full Moon Festival (上元雜詠, 상원잡영). The First Full Moon Festival (正月 大–, 정월대보름 or 上元, 상원) occurs fifteen days after the Lunar New Year, which is on March 5 of this year. Ten heptasyllabic poems in all, they describe various traditional Korean folk customs on this day, covering offering food for crows (祭烏, 제오), giving feed to an ox (飼牛, 사오), drinking wine to gain sharp hearing (治聾, 치롱), selling heat (賣暑, 매서), planting reed flutes (植風竿, 식풍간), building a bridge out of straw thatch (苫橋, 섬교), setting ridges between rice paddies on fire (燒田, 소전), gazing at the full moon (候月, 후월), playing tug-of-war (繂曳, 솔예), and exorcism of evil spirits (罷儺, 파나). The rest of the blog post will focus on the first in this collection, on the custom of offering for crows (祭烏, 제오 or 까마귀 밥주기).

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I threw out the idea of having a joint Classical Chinese poetry composition (詩會, 시회) on a post few weeks ago. Fortunately, three people responded, meaning that with myself included that would be four, and one of the most common Classical Chinese poetic form are quartets. All of us were Asian diaspora: a Cantonese speaking Chinese-American, Mandarin speaking Chinese-Canadian, Vietnamese-American, and Korean-American. As for our educational background, three of us including myself are from a technical background and the remaining one from the humanities and music. We chose to write a quartet (絶句, 절구) as the poetic form (詩體, 시체) with 陽(양) as the riming character (韻, 운). The theme (主題, 주제) picked was hopes for the new year, since the Lunar New Year was approaching and is today. We each took turns composing each line and then afterward commented and (heavily) revised upon it. This was a truly delightful experience.


Hopes for the New Year

羈中朔月少知光 (歸源)
寒盡紅梅掩故鄉 (羅氏)
萬里南圖心未已 (峭庵)
卸繮騏驥馭神羊 (孟昭)

In foreign lands, few know the significance of the new moon’s light. (Kuiwon)
As winter departs, red plum blossoms obscure the homeland. (Jeff Loh)
A ten thousand mile journey planned towards south, my heart ceases not thinking. (Tiễu Am)
Let go of the reins of the thoroughbred horse and straddle the divine ram. (Mengzhao)


Strange land • middle • first day • moon • few • to know • light
Cold • to exhaust • red • plums • to cover • old • village
Ten thousand • li • south • to plan • mind • not yet • to cease
To untie • reins • horse • horse • to drive • divine • ram


  • Heptasyllabic truncated verse (七言絶句). Riming character (韻) is 陽.
  • 南圖 – Literally means “to plan southward.” Refers to great aspirations.
  • 騏驥 – Refers to a horse that can gallop very quickly.
  • 神羊 – Literally “divine ram.” Can refer to Xiezhi (獬豸) or Haetae (海陀), a legendary lion-like beast in Chinese and Korean mythology. Statues of the beast can be found at the gates of many old homes and palaces.
  • Last year was the year of the horse (甲午). This year it is the year of the ram (乙未). Last line alludes to transitions from the year of the horse to the year of the ram.


신년소망 shin nyeon so mang
기중삭월소지광 gi jung sak weol so ji gwang
한진홍매엄고향 han jin hong mae eom go hyang
만리남도심미기 man ri nam do shim mi gi
사강기기어신양 sa gang gi gi eo shin yang

san1 nin4 so2 mong6
gei1 zung1 sok3 jyut6 siu2 zi1 gwong1
hon4 zeon6 gung1 mui4 am2 gu3 hoeng1
maan6 lei5 naam4 tou4 sam1 mei6 ji5
se3 goeng1 kei4 kei3 jyu6 san1 joeng4

Tân niên sở vọng
Ky trung sóc nguyệt thiểu tri quang
Hàn tận hồng mai yểm cố hương
Vạn lý nam đồ tâm vị dĩ
Tá cương kỳ ký ngự thần dương

xīn nián suǒ wàng
jī zhōng shuò yuè shǎo zhī guāng
hán jìn hōng méi yǎn gù xiāng
wàn lǐ nán tú xīn wèi yǐ
xiè jiāng qí jì yù shén yáng


Mount Emei (峨嵋山, 아미산) in Sichuan Province (四川省, 사천성) (Source)

Cui Tu (崔塗, 최도, 854-?) was a poet and late Tang dynasty (唐, 당, 618-907) bureaucrat. He was born in Jiangnan (江南, 강남); his courtesy name was Lishan (禮山, 예산). In 888, he passed the civil service examination and attained a bureaucratic position, but not much is known about his time in government. During the latter years of his life, he wandered about various regions across China and composed poetry about his travels and hardships. Cui Tu’s poems were renowned and two of his poems were selected for the anthology, Three Hundred Tang Poems (唐詩三百首, 당시삼백수), one of the most popular historical anthologies of Classical Chinese poetry. One of these two records his thoughts just before the Lunar New Year, which falls on February 19 this year.

除夜有懷 제야유회

Thoughts on New Year’s Eve

迢遞三巴路 초체삼파로
羈危萬里身 기위만리신
亂山殘雪夜 란산잔설야
孤獨異鄕人 고독이향인
漸與骨肉遠 점여골육원
轉於僮僕親 전어동복친
那堪止漂泊 나감지표박
明日歲華新 명일세화신

Steep and winding are the trails of Sanba (三巴, 삼파);
Strange and perilous it is to the body that has traveled ten thousand Li (里, 리).
Amid the rumpled mountains covered by snow, during nightfall,
An isolated and lonely man of a different hometown.
Gradually, he becomes distant from his bone and flesh;
Repeatedly, he is close with his attendants and servants.
How can one endure to putting an end to his wandering and lodging?
Tomorrow, the year shall be new.


Steep • winding • three • Ba state • road
Visitor • dangerous • ten thousand • Li • body
Disorderly • mountains • to remain • snow • night
Isolated • alone • different • village • man
Gradually • with • bone • flesh • distant
Repeatedly • to • servant • servant • close
How • endure • to stop • to float • to lodge
Next •  day •  year •  bright •  new


  • Heptasyllabic regulated poem (七言律詩, 칠언율시). Riming character (韻, 운) is 眞(진).
  • 三巴(삼파) – An old name for the region around modern day Chongqing (重慶, 중경) in Sichuan Province. It refers to the old Ba state (巴, 파, ?-316BC) that ruled the area during the Warring States Period (戰國時代, 전국시대).
  • 里(리) – A natural unit of measuring distances. One li was originally 360 paces (步, 보). During the Tang Dynasty period, one Li was approximately 323 meters.
  • Korean translations available here.
Shigyeong - Gukpung

Classic of Poetry (詩經, 시경) – Airs of States (國風, 국풍) (Source)


Since most of the posts on this blog are translations of Classical Chinese poetry (漢詩, 한시), I thought it would be beneficial to briefly outline forms and the tonal meters. Most of what is written in this post I gathered from a book I reviewed awhile ago and on various Korean blogs. For the sake of brevity, I will be glossing over some of the minute details. There are tomes written about this subject.

Overview of Poetic Forms

Classical Chinese Poetic Forms

Classical Chinese poetic form (詩體, 시체) can be generally broken down into two categories: (1) archaic style poetry (古體詩, 고체시) and (2) recent style poetry (近體詩, 근체시). These categories have their own characteristics and can be further broken down into subcategories.

1. Archaic Style Poetry (古體詩, 고체시)

The most tale-telling indicator of archaic style poetry is the lack of strict adherence to form or rime. The term “archaic” in archaic style poetry is a bit of a misnomer, as there were plenty of archaic style poems written after recent style poetry was developed. Archaic style poems can have a varying number of lines and number of syllables per line (雜言, 잡언). To the extent an archaic style poem follows even a riming scheme, it uses near rimes (通韻, 통운) and may use oblique tones as rimes (仄韻, 측운). Other miscellaneous characteristics include the repetition of same character often throughout the poem, a trait not seen too often in recent style poetry.

2. Recent Style Poetry (近體詩, 근체시)

Recent style poetry first developed during the Southern and Northern Dynasties Period (南北朝時代, 남북조시대, 420-589) and fully formed during the middle period of the Tang Dynasty in the 8th and 9th centuries. In contrast to archaic style poetry, recent style poetry is marked by strict adherence to form. They are typically either quartets (絶句, 절구) or octets (律詩, 율시). Some are “extended regulation” poems (排律, 배율), which are extended versions of either quartets or octets and are typically 12 lines. For each line, recent style poems are either pentasyllabic (五言, 오언) or heptasyllabic (七言, 칠언). There is also a strict tonal meter of plain and oblique tones, and a riming scheme. With quartets and octets, there are additional rules regarding how the content should progress within the poem. The rest of this post will focus on the rules of recent style poetry.

Tonal Meter in Recent Style Poetry (平仄原則, 평측원칙)

For the purposes of this explanation, I will use the following, widely used notation. The basic rules are stated in terms of heptasyllablic poems, but can be generalized to pentasyllabic poems.

○ Plain tone (平聲, 평성)
● Oblique tone (仄聲, 측성)
◐ Preferably oblique tone, plain tone allowed
◑ Preferably plain tone, oblique tone allowed
◎ Rime (押韻, 압운)

1. Second and Sixth Syllables Should Be the Same; Second and Fourth Should Be Different (二六對, 이륙대; 二四不同, 이사불동)

The second, fourth, and sixth syllables of a heptasyllabic poem set the rhythm (節奏點, 절주점) in each line. In fact, a heptasyllabic line is meant to be read and interpreted in 2-2-3. (Rarely is it 3-2-2.) Under this rule, the second and sixth syllable should be of the same tone. In contrast, the second and fourth characters should be of different tones. For example, if the second syllable is of a plain tone (○), the fourth syllable should be oblique (●) and the sixth syllable should be again plain (○).  The first phrase in this rule is sometimes called 二六同(이륙동).

2. Over First, Third, and Fifth Syllables, Do Not Argue; Second, Fourth, and Sixth Syllables Must Be Certain (一三五不論, 일삼오불론; 二四六分明, 이사륙분명)

As for the other syllables, typically the first, third, and fifth syllables of each line follow the tone as the syllable respectively after each. They are, however, not strictly restricted in terms of which tone they have to be. Hence, “do not argue” (不論, 불론). On the other hand, the second, fourth, and sixth syllables cannot be changed. An exemplary line that complies with this rule is  雪花遣霰作前鋒(설화견산작전봉) (●○●●●○◎). In this example, the first syllable is an oblique tone, even though the second syllable is a plain tone.

3. Unaccompanied Plain Tones and Unaccompanied Oblique Tones Should Be Avoided (避孤平孤仄, 피고평고측)

A plain tone syllable that follows and comes before oblique tone syllables is called an unaccompanied plain tone (孤平, 고평). An oblique tone syllable that follows and comes before plain tone syllables is called an unaccompanied oblique tone (孤仄, 고측). Generally, unaccompanied plain and oblique tones should be avoided for the second, fourth, and sixth syllables in each line, because it is considered to break the rhythm and flow of the poem. This rule is not strictly followed, however, as it is not uncommon to see unaccompanied oblique tones in Classical Chinese poems. With Korean Classical Chinese poets, the rule was more strictly followed for the second syllable in a heptasyllabic poem and the fourth syllable in a pentasyllablic poem.

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