Hwang Jin’i – A Small Boat of Pine Wood

Hwang Jin’i (黃眞伊, 황진이, c.1506-c.1560) was most famous of Gisaeng (妓生,기생) of the Chosun dynasty, and many novels, dramas, and movie have been inspired by her. Her Gisaeng name was Myeongweol (明月, 명월, “bright moon”) and her pseudonym (別名, 별명) was Jinnang (眞娘, 진낭, “true lady”). She was well renowned for her poetry, drawings, dance, as well as in-depth knowledge of Neo-Confucianism and Chinese classics. Unfortunately, many of her works were lost during Hideyoshi’s Japanese invasions of Korea (壬辰倭亂, 임진왜란, 1592-1598; Imjinwaeran). One of her poems that survived through this tumultuous era is translated below.

小柏舟 소백주

A Small Boat of Pine Wood

汎彼中流小柏舟 범피중류소백주
幾年閑盛碧波頭 기년한성벽파두
後人若問誰先渡 후인약문수선도
文武兼全萬戶侯 문무겸전만호후

Floating over there in midstream is a small boat of pine wood.
How many years has it been much at leisure on the head of the blue waves?
If those after ask who went across first,
Tell them, “The lords of ten-thousand households, all full of knowledge of the literary and martial arts.”

Notes:

  • The first line is in reference to a poem found in the Classic of Poetry (詩經, 시경) in the Odes of Bei (邶風, 패풍; Pae’pung) titled “A Boat of Pine Wood” (柏舟, 백주, Baekju). The first three lines of that poem are translated below:

柏舟 백주

A Boat of Pine Wood

汎彼柏舟 亦汎其流 범피백주 역범기류
耿耿不寐 如有隱憂 경경불매 여유은우
微我無酒 以敖以遊 미아무주 이오이유

Floating over there is a boat of pine wood;
Indeed, it floats in that stream.
Anxious and worried am I unable to sleep;
As if I have a hidden pain.
It is not because I have no wine;
That I should frolic and play.

  • A not so widely used Hanja idiom (漢字成語, 한자성어) which is in allusion to the poem above is “fidelity of a boat of pine wood” (柏舟之操, 백주지조). It refers to a widow’s longing for and fidelity to her deceased husband.

Characters:

  • 汎(범) – To float (뜨다).
  • 耿耿(경경) – To flicker (깜박깜박하다) or to be worried (근심하다).
  • 敖(오) – To be haughty (거만하다) or to frolic (놀다).
  • 邶(패) – A geographical name referring to region in China (國名, 국명).

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