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.
A Poem Promoting Learning
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.’
The days and months flow off; but the years do not slow down for me.
O, alas! I am old. Whose fault is this?”
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.
- 塘(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.