Zhu Xi – A Poem Promoting Learning

Zhu Xi (朱熹, 주희, Ju Heui; 1130-1200) was a Song Dynasty Confucian scholar known as one of the founding scholars of Neo-Confucianism (性理學, 성리학). His courtesy name (字, 자) was Yuan Hui (元晦, 원회, Weon Hoe) and his pen name (號, 호) was Hui An (晦庵, 회암, Hoe Am). His works were more influential in Chosun Dynasty Korea, where he is referred to as “Master Ju” (朱子, 주자, Juja), than in China. He is also well known for his commentary on the Classic of Poetry (詩經, 시경, Shigyeong),  Analects of Confucius (論語, 논어, Non’eo), Mencius (孟子, 맹자, Maengja), The Great Learning (大學, 대학, Daehak), and The Doctrine of the Mean (中庸, 중용, Jung’yong). Zhu Xi is the author of The Minor Learning (小學, 소학, Sohak), as well as a number of poems, the most famous of which is translated below together with the preface.

勸學詩 권학시

A Poem Promoting Learning

朱子曰: 勿謂今日不學而有來日
주자왈: 물위금일불학이유래일

Master Ju said, “Do not say, ‘I need not learn today, because I have tomorrow.’


Do not say, ‘I need not learn this year, because I have next year.’

日月逝矣, 歲不我延
일월서의, 세불아연

The days and months flow off; but the years do not slow down for me.

嗚呼老矣, 是誰之愆
오호로의, 시수지건

O, alas! I am old. Whose fault is this?”

少年易老學難成 소년이로학난성
一寸光陰不可輕 일촌광음불가경
未覺池塘春草夢 미각지당춘초몽
階前梧葉已秋聲 계전오엽이추성

The youth grow old easily; but achieve studies hardly.
One inch of light and shade is not a trivial thing:
Not yet have they woken up from the dreams of the spring grass around the pond,
But before the steps the leaves of the foxglove tree already have the autumn sound.


  • “One inch of light and shade” is a literal translation of “一寸光陰(일촌광음)” and refers to a very short amount of time. I prefer literal translations.


  • (당) – Pond (못). 池塘(지당) means pond.
  • 易(이, 역) – When it means “easy” (쉽다), it is read as 이; when it means “to exchange” (바꾸다), it is read as 역.
  1. Kim, Kyungim said:

    where did this Zhu Xi’s portrait come from? Can I use this image for my book project?

    • 歸源 said:

      I don’t remember where specifically, but I grabbed it off of Google Image. Therefore, you don’t need my permission to use this portrait.

      I would be interested in seeing how your book project develops. I have a few posts on Zhu Xi’s work on this blog.

      • Kim, Kyungim said:

        Thank you very much for your quick and kind reply. I am currently working on my book, titled “Prince Anpyung and his dream”(temporary) and I am looking for a Zhu Xi’s portrait with correct information on the picture. If you find any, could you let me know it? I would very much appreciate your kind help. Anyway thank you for your interest on my book project. It will come out around mid October this year. Not so long! I will write to you again. K. Kim.

      • Kim, Kyungim said:

        Thank you so much for your help. It is a beautiful picture with good information. I would like to use it for my book. Actually I was desperate for a good picture of Zhu after I was denied to use an image in the collection of Harvard University. Since in my book I introduce the ninth of Zhu’s poem, “武夷九曲櫂歌”, i needed Zhu’s portrait. Thank you again and I will write to you again. K. Kim.

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