Qu Yuan – The Fisherman’s Song


The Japanese have selected the character “金” (Gold) as their Character of the Year; the Chinese have selected “夢” (Dream); and the Singaporeans “色” (Color or lust). A group of Korean professors have selected the Four-Character Idiom (四字成語, 사자성어) of the Year for 2012 as 擧世皆濁 (거세개탁), which means “On earth everything is corrupt,” probably as a reflection of this year’s elections and Korean politics. This idiom is in reference to a Lyrical Poem (辭, 사, Sa) in the Songs of the Chu State (楚辭, 초사, Chosa), which has been traditionally attributed to  Qu Yuan (屈原, 굴원, Gul Weon, 343-278 BC), a poet that lived during the Warring States Period of Chinese history.

漁父辭 어부사

The Fisherman’s Song

屈原旣放 游於江潭
굴원기방 유어강담
行吟澤畔 顔色憔悴 形容枯槁
행음택반 안색초췌 형용고고

Qu Yuan, previously exiled, played by the rivers and ponds.
As he strolled, singing about the flat banks of the pond, his complexion grew haggard and his shape grew thin.

漁父見而問之曰: 子非三閭大夫與? 何故至於斯?
어부견이문지왈 자비삼려대부여? 하고지어사?

The fisherman saw and asked him, “Are you not of the three royal families of the Chu State? For what reason did you come here?”

屈原曰: 擧世皆濁 我獨淸. 衆人皆醉 我獨醒. 是以見放
굴원왈: 거세개탁 아독청. 중인개취 아독성. 시이견방

Qu Yuan replied, “On all the earth everything is muddy; I alone am clear. Among the multitude, everyone is drunk; I alone am sober. For this reason, I have been exiled.”

漁父曰 어부왈,
聖人 不凝滯於物 而能與世推移
성인 부응체어물 이능여세추이
世人皆濁 何不淈其泥 而揚其波?
세인개탁 하불굴기니 이양기파?
衆人皆醉 何不飽其糟 而歠其醨?
중인개취 하불포기조 이철기리?
何故深思高擧 自令放爲?
하고심사고거 자령방위?

The fisherman said,
“The sages have said that there are no impediments in things and it is possible to give the world progress and transformation.
If all the people on earth were muddy, how is it that mire not becoming muddy, their waves rises?
If all the multitude were drunk, how is it that not being full on fermentation residue, their wine is gulped?
For what reason, having thought deeply and acting highly, have you made yourself go into exile?”

屈原曰 吾聞之 新沐者必彈冠 新浴者必振衣
굴원왈 오문지 신목자필탄관 신욕자필진의
安能以身之察察 受物之汶汶者乎?
안능이신지찰찰 수물지문문자호?
寧赴湘流 葬於江魚之腹中 安能以皓皓之白 而蒙世俗之塵埃乎
녕부상류 장어강어지복중 안능이호호지백 이목세속지진애호

Qu Yuan replied, “I have heard this: that a person who washes his hair anew must hit the dust off his hat; that a person who washes his body anew must shake off the dust from his clothes. How can someone with a body that is minute and fine accept something that is dirty and filthy?
Rather than he arriving at the Xiang River be buried inside the stomach of a fish from the river,
How can someone with the whiteness of brightness and cleanliness be dirtied by the dust and soil of the mundane world?”

漁父莞爾而笑 鼓枻而去 乃歌曰
어부완이이소 고예이거 내가왈
滄浪之水淸兮 可以濯吾纓
창랑지수청혜 가이탁오영
滄浪之水濁兮 可以濯吾足
창랑지수탁혜 가이탁오족

The fisherman only smiled beamingly and laughed. He turned the helm, left, and then sung,
“If the waters of the ocean waves are clean, I can wash my hat-string.
If the waters of the ocean waves are muddy, I can wash my feet.”
In the end, he left and did not repeat to give these words.


  • 三閭大夫(삼려대부) refers to the three family clans that made up the royal family of the Chu State (楚, 초, Cho). They are: the Shao ( 昭氏, 소씨, So), the Qu (屈氏, 굴씨, Gul), and the Jing (景氏, 경씨, Gyeong).


  • 畔(반) – Ridges between rice field (밭두둑).
  • 澤畔(택반) – Refers to the flat land on the banks of a pond.
  • 憔悴(초췌) – To appear pale or haggard (파리하다).
  • 枯槁(고고) – To become emaciated or thin (야위다).
  • 糟(조) – Fermentation residue or lees (지게미).
  • 歠(철) – To gulp or drink (들어마시다).
  • 醨(리) – Fresh wine (삼삼한 술).
  • 皓(호) – To be white (희다); To be clean (깨끗하다).
  • 枻(세) – Helm of a boat (배의 키).
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