Hwang Hyeon (黃玹, 황현, 1855-1910) was a scholar, writer, and poet during the latter days of the Chosun Period. He was of the Jangsu Hwang Clan (長水黃氏, 장수황씨); his courtesy name (字) was Un’gyeong (雲卿, 운경); and his pen name (號, 호) was Maecheon (梅泉, 매천). He was a fervent Korean independence activist. He wrote many poems in Classical Chinese expressing Korean nationalism, one of which has been translated below. After the Japan-Korea Annexation Treaty (韓日合邦條約, 한일합방조약 or 庚戌國恥, 경술국치), in protest and in lamentation, he committed suicide. In 1962, the Republic of Korea awarded the Order of Merit for National Foundation (建國勳章, 건국훈장) to Hwang Hyeon posthumously. Many of the notes below are based on the notes in the Korean translation.
A Song for Lord Yi Chungmu’s Turtle Ships
The Celestial Dog (天狗, 천구) nibbles away at the moon, running the vast ocean dry.
The strong gale blows over ten-thousand Li, cutting the divine mulberry tree.
On Mount Juheul (主屹, 주흘), the grand gateway has already fallen on the earth.
The naval infantry number in the hundred-thousands and have repeatedly attacked violently.
The old general of the Won Family (元, 원) is but one sack of meat.
Alone and stubborn, he nested on the island, as the large ants were cut away.
National boundaries are an important duty, not for you and me.
How can a small boat crossing waters be that of the Qin (秦, 진) being stared at by the Yue (越, 월)?
The Left Naval Forces (左水營, 좌수영) go south to open wide the gates.
Rat-a-tat, the drum is struck and the turtle ships appear.
Whether they are like turtles or not turtles; whether they are ships or whether they are not ships,
The board-roof ships are sky-like and grind, lifting up eddies.
Four feet rotate in circles, becoming a carriage’s wheels;
The two ribs have scales spread out, creating holes for lances;
And twenty four oars dance beneath the waves.
The oarsmen sit and lie in Baron Yang’s (陽侯, 양후) cave.
Noses spout black smoke; eyes are covered in red.
To extend is like that of a frolicking dragon; to retract is like that of a terrapin turtle.
The Southern barbarians murmur, wailing and fussing.
At Mount Han (閒山, 한산) in Noryang (露梁, 노량), overflowing was red blood.
The boy of the red wall met his time by good fortune;
The student of the patterned rock boasted greatly about his determination.
Who can overrun the oceans and experience a hundred battles?
To sever a whale and to cut open a crocodile with a blade is not insufficient.
In two-hundred years in the future, when the Earth rips open,
A propeller ship will sail East , with its flames concealing the Sun.
A tiger, stigmatizing peace and shaking the earth, acts in aggression against the lamb.
Firearms shake the heavens and the threats of murder spread.
If the Ninth Heaven (九原, 구원) can recreate Lord Chungmu,
Then within the bottom of the pocket, there surely could be strategy, various and strange.
If with creativity a victory can be achieved, similar to that of the turtle ships,
Then the Japanese barbarians would be begging for mercy from death and the Western Barbarians from their destruction!
- Lord Chungmu (忠武公, 충무공), or literally “Lord of Loyalty and Martial Arts,” is the posthumous title of Admiral Yi Sunshin (李舜臣, 이순신, 1545-1598).
- 天狗(천구) refers to the Pyxis constellation.
- Mount Juheul (主屹, 주흘) is a mountain on the Gyeongsangbukdo (慶商北道, 경상북도) and Chungcheongbukdo (忠靑北道, 충청북도) border.
- 扶桑(부상) – Refers to mythical land to the east of China. It is sometimes used to refer to Japan. For more information, read more information on the Wikipedia entry on Fusang.
- The old general referred to in the poem is Won Gyun (元均, 원균), a general during the Japanese Invasions of Korea (1592-1598). He was of a Weonju Won Clan (原州元氏, 원주원씨), a distinguished military family clan. He is, however, criticized in his poem.
- Large ants (蚍蜉, 비부) are an allusion to Han Yu’s (韓愈, 한유) Tales of Zhang Zhongcheng, Described Thereafter (張中丞傳後敍, 장중승전후서):
當其圍守時, 外無蚍蜉蟻子之援. 所欲忠者, 國與主耳.
당시위수시, 외무비부의자지원. 소욕충자, 국여주이.
At the time they were surrounding and protecting [the fort], outside there was no assistance from large ants or small ants. Those that wanted loyalty were only the royal family and the king.
- The mention of the Qin and Yue is a reference to one of Han Yu’s other works, The Arguing Subject Discussion (爭臣論, 쟁신론):
視政之得失 若越人視秦人之肥瘠 忽焉不加喜戚於其心
시정지득실 약월인시진인지비척 홀언불가희척어기심
To see the gains and losses of politics is akin to a Yue man seeing how fat and skinny the people of Qin are. At once, joy and anxiety are not added to their hearts.
- 陽侯(양후) is an illusion to the Strategies of the Warring States (戰國策, 전국책, Jeon’gukchaek) and refers to the the wave divinity, the waves of Baron Yang (陽侯之波, 양후지파):
謂公叔曰: 乘舟, 舟漏而弗塞, 則舟沉矣. 塞漏舟, 而輕陽侯之波, 則舟覆矣.
위공숙왈: 승주, 주루이불색, 측주침의. 색루주, 이경양후지파, 즉주패의.
Someone called Duke Shu (公叔, 공숙, Gong Suk) saying, “When riding the boat, if the boat leaks and the leak is not stopped, the boat will sink. When stopping the leakage on the boat, if you think trivial the waves of Baron Yang (陽侯, 양후, Yang Hu), the boat will be flipped over.
今公自以辯於薛公而輕秦, 是塞漏舟而輕陽侯之波也. 愿公之察也.
금공자이변어설공이경진, 시색루주이경양후지파야. 원공지찰야.
Now, you consult with Duke Xue (薛公, 설공, Seol Gong), thinking the Qin State to be trivial. This is [the same] as stopping the leakage on the boat but thinking trivial the waves of Baron Yang. I wish you to discern [this matter].
- The Battle of Noryang (露梁大捷, 노량대첩) was one of the last major battles of the Japanese Invasions.
- The boy of the red wall (赤壁少年, 적벽소년) is an allusion to Zhou Yu (周瑜, 주유, Ju Yu), a general in The Records of the Three Kingdoms (三國志, 삼국지).
- The student of the patterned stone (采石書生, 채석서생) is a reference to Yu Yunwen (虞允文, 우윤문, U Yunmun), a scholar from the Song Dynasty (宋, 송, 960-1279).
- The Ninth Origin (九原, 구원) or Ninth Heaven (九天, 구천) refers to the highest place in all the heavens.
- The bottom of the pocket (囊底, 낭저) is a reference to the Chapter 123 of the Book of Jin (晉書, 진서) and Murong Chui (慕容垂, 모용수, Moyong Su, 326-396), a general of the Former Yan dynasty (前燕, 전연, Jeon Yeon, 337-370) and the first emperor of the Later Yan dynasty (後燕 후연, Hu Yeon, 384-407). The quote is from when he was preparing for rebellion:
吾計決矣 且吾投老 扣囊底智 足以克之 不復留逆賊以累子孫也.
오계결의 차오타로 구낭저지 족이극지 불부류역적이루자손야.
My plan has been decided. Again, I will hit old age. If you cut the wisdom within bottom of my pocket, it will be sufficient to defeat them. It will not again be left to the rebels, so that they become a nuisance to our descendants.
- 罡(강) – To be strong (강하다).
- 舟師(주사) – Another word for naval forces.
- 袋(대) – Sack (자루).
- 棲(서) – To nest (깃들이다).
- 蚍蜉(비부) – Carpenter ant (왕개미).
- 葦(위) – Small boat (가룻배).
- 杭(항) – To cross waters (물을 건너다).
- 詎(거) – Interrogative adjective (어찌).
- 碾(년) – To grind with millstone (맷돌에 갈다).
- 鯨(경) – Whale (고래); To raise (쳐들다).
- 沫(말) – Foam (물거품).
- 槍(창) – Lances or spears (창).
- 棹(도) – Oars (노).
- 抹(말) – To cover (바르다).
- 喁喁(우우) – To murmur (맞장구치다).
- 漲(창) – To overflow (넘치다).
- 鋩(망) – Blade of a knife (칼날).
- 綻(탄) – To explode or rip (터지다).
- 韜(도) – To conceal (감추다).
- 掀(흔) – To raise high (치켜들다).