Yi Min’gu – Snowing on the Day of the Major Cold

Daehan Scenery

Yi Min’gu (李敏求, 이민구, 1589-1670) was a Chosun dynasty literati bureaucrat. He was of the Jeonju Yi Clan (全州李氏, 전주이씨); his courtesy name (字, 자) was Jashi (子時, 자시); and his pen name (號, 호) was Dongju (東洲, 동주) and Gwanhae (觀海, 관해). He was well known for as a proser writer and as a poet, with over four thousand works, most of which were lost in the Manchu invasions. During the Second Manchu Invasion of Korea (丙子胡亂, 병자호란, 1636-1637), he was the Gangdo Prosecution Magistrate (江都檢察副使, 강도검찰부사) and had the responsibility of taking the King to Ganghwa Island, but failed when Manchu forces blocked the roadway to the island.

In the poem below, he writes about snow on the day of the Major Cold (大寒, 대한, Daehan), one of the twenty four solar terms (節氣, 절기). As these days are calculated based on where the Earth is on its orbit around the Sun, they fall on the same day on the Western Gregorian Calendar, which is a solar calendar, and vary on the oriental lunar calendar. The Major Cold marks when the Earth is between 315 to 330 degrees on its celestial longitude and falls on January 20th.

大寒日雪 대한일설

Snowing on the Day of the Major Cold

風威向曉轉乘凌 풍위향효전승릉
紙帳霜凝布被稜 지지상응포피릉
白屋寒埋連夜雪 백옥한매련야설
窮泉凍合積年氷 궁천동합적년빙
徒看厚地千尋坼 도간후지천심탁
未信幽陽一氣升 미신유양일기승
憑仗濁醪排凜冽 빙장탁료배름렬
暫時頹枕睡瞢騰 잠시퇴짐수몽등

The wind’s strength, toward the dawn, turns and changes into ice.
The frost of the paper curtain coalesces on the blanket, made out of wool.
At the humble shack, buried in the cold, for continuous nights, it snowed;
The end of the stream, joined with the chill, for many years, froze over.
Seeing only the thick ground in a thousand lengths cracked,
I do not yet believe the dark sun’s one breath has arisen.
Leaning on my cane, my rice wine rejects intensity of the cold.
For a brief moment, I fell on my pillow and in the dimness of my sleep arose.

Notes:

  • Gangdo (江都, 강도) is today known as Gwanghwa Island (江華島, 강화도).

Characters:

  • 凌(릉) – Ice (얼음).
  • 稜(릉) – Wool (모).
  • 白屋(백옥) – A shabby hut (초라한 초가집).
  • 窮泉(궁천) – End of a stream.
  • 千尋(천심) – Literally means a “thousand lengths.” Refers to a shape that is high or deep.
  • 幽陽(유양) – One of the many many sobriquets for the moon in Classical Chinese.
  • 憑(빙) – To incline upon (기대다).
  • 濁醪(탁료) – Rice wine (막걸리).
  • 凜冽(늠렬) – Intensity of the cold.
  • 頹(퇴) – To fall over (무너지다).
  • 瞢(몽) – To be dim (어둡다).
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