Luo Hongxian – Poems to Awake the World

Luo Hongxian (羅洪先, 나홍선, 1504-1564; Na Hongseon) was a government bureaucrat of the Ming dynasty (明, 명, 1368–1644), having obtained first place in the imperial civil exam. Hence, he is referred sometimes as Luo Zhuangyuan (羅狀元, 나장원; Na Jangweon). His courtesy name (字, 자) was Dafu (達夫, 달부; Dalbu); and his pen name was Nian’an (念庵, 염암; Yeon’am). He was a follower of two schools of thought in Confucianism: Wang Yangming  (王陽明, 왕양명; Wang Yangmyeong) and Zhu Xi (朱熹, 주희; Ju Heui). One his poems is also found in the Reflecting upon the Heart chapter (省心篇, 성심편, Seongshimpyeon) of The Precious Mirror Illuminating the Heart (明心寶鑑, 명심보감, Myeongshimbogam), which is a well known Korean Confucian etiquette manual.

醒世詩歌 성세시가
其廿二 기읍이

Poems to Awake the World
Twenty-Second Poem

堪歎人心毒似蛇 감탄인심독사사
誰知天眼轉如車 수지천안전여차
去年妄取東隣物 거년망취동린물
今日還歸北舍家 금일환귀북사가
無義錢財湯潑雪 무의전재탕발설
騙來田地水堆沙 편래전지수추사
若將狡譎爲生計 약장교휼위생계
恰似朝雲募落花 흡사조운모락화

To endure lamenting a man’s heart is poisonous like a snake.
Who knows that heaven’s eyes turn like the wheels of a carriage?
Yesteryear’s foolish gaining of an eastern neighbor’s belongings,
Today, has come and been returned to the northern house.
The money and goods, without fidelity, are like the snow being sprinkled with boiled water;
The fields and land, obtained by trickery, are like the sands collecting water.
If by slyness and chicanery a plan of living is made,
Then that is similar to the the morning clouds gathering the fallen flowers.

Notes:

  • Jangweon (狀元, 장원) refers to winning first place in the civil exam.
  • It is rumored that Luo Hongxian became a Buddhist monk after he retired from public office. It is true that there are a few Buddhist allusions in this poem: I am not too familiar with Buddhist works, but the ones I recognize are “poisonous/venomous snake” (毒蛇, 독사) and “heaven’s eyes” (天眼, 천안). However, what is certain that he heavily criticized Buddhism and wrote works comparing the Buddhist and Confucian visions of life and death.
  • More of his poems can be found untranslated here (醒世詩詞選, 성세시사선).

Characters:

  • 堪(감) – To bear or endure (참다).
  • 潑(발) – To sprinkle water (물 뿌리다).
  • 堆(퇴) – To collect or pile on (쌓다).
  • 騙(편) – To trick or deceive (속이다).
  • 狡(교) – To be cunning or sly (교활하다).
  • 譎(휼) – To trick or deceive (속이다).
  • 募(모) – To collect or gather (모이다).

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