Gang Sehwang – A Fortuitous Collection of Poetry

Gang Sehwang

Gang Sehwang (姜世晃, 강세황, 1712-1791) was a composer, painter, and critic. He was of the Jinju Gang Clan (晋州姜氏, 진주강씨); his courtesy name was Gwangji (光之, 광지); his pen name was Pyoam (豹菴, 표암); and his posthumous name was Heonjeong (憲靖, 헌정). From a young age, he was recognized as gifted, having composed his first poem at the age of 8. He avoided taking a government post, until much later in life: he passed the civil examination (科擧, 과거) at the top of those taking the exam at the age of 66. Gang Sehwang was also one of the first Chosun painters to use Western painting methods.

The poem below was composed by him along with a number of his friends presumably at a dinner party, while enjoying dog-meat soup and wine. Each of the participants, after having consumed some amount of alcohol, had to compose one line of the poem and make the last character rime with the character picked for the occasion, which in this case was the character for person, pronounced In (人, 인) in Korean. Also, just as a disclaimer, the author of this blog has never eaten dog, but has no moral qualms with others eating dog — or any other animal.

偶集檀園, 以”空山無人, 水流花開,” 分韻各賦, 得人字
우작단원, 이”공산무인, 수류개화,” 분운각부, 득인자

A Fortuitous Collection of Poetry with Danweon’s
In an Empty Mountain Without People, the Waters Flow and Flowers Blossom:
With Each Person Composing a Line of the Poem with the Chosen Rime In (人,인).

無如此會佳 非族卽故人
무여차회가 비족즉고인
盃樽不必盛 談笑無非眞
배준불필성 담소무비진
白飯狗肉羹 燒酒復數巡
백반구육갱 소주부수순

Nothing is beautiful as this meeting:
It is not with family, but with old friends.
The wine glasses and the barrels surely are not full;
But the joyous conversation is nothing but sincere!
With white rice and dog meat soup,
The distilled spirits repeatedly and frequently are turned.

晩來更移席 俯臨大海濱
만래갱리석 부림대해빈
返照射滄波 萬頃如鎔銀
반조사창파 만경여용은
是時積雨霽 高樹鳴蜩新
시시적우제 고수명조신

With the evening coming, we again change seats;
Stooping down, we look down at the shore of the great sea.
The shining rays are going back into the blue waves;
Its enormity is like melting silver.
At this time, the gathered rain clouds cleared;
And on the high trees, the crying cicadas renew.

淺山違遙浦 瑩凈無纖塵
천산위요포 영정무섬진
聯牋各拈韻 吟咏爭紛繽
련전각념운 음영쟁분빈
如何鶴西子 醉倒墮冠巾
여하학서자 취도타관건

The low mountains are disjoint and distant from the banks:
They are clear and bright, without a speck of dust.
Side by side on the page, each of us chooses a rime,
Composing poetry, while disputing intricately and complicatedly.
How did Hakseoja (鶴西子, 학서자),
Having fallen in drunken stupor, drop his hat?


  • Note that due to the changes in pronunciations of characters in the modern Korean language, some of them do not sound as though they rime.
  • Danweon (檀園, 단원) is the pen name of Kim Hongdo (金弘道, 김홍도, 1745-?), another famous painter of the Chosun dynasty.
  • The phrase “空山無人, 水流花開” (공산문인 수류화개) is a reference to the Song dynasty poet, Huang Tingjian (黃庭堅, 황정견, 1045-1105) and appears in many paintings, including one by Kim Hongdo.

萬里長天 雲起雨來
만리장천 운기우래
空山無人 水流花開
공산무인 수류화개

In the ten-thousand li expansive heavens,
Clouds have risen and rain has come.
In the empty mountain without people,
The rivers flow and flowers blossom.

  • Hakseoja (鶴西子, 학서자) is probably the pen name (號, 호) or courtesy name (字, 자) of someone in the group.


  • 無非(무비) – Certainly or surely (반드시).
  • 霽(제) – To stop raining (비 그치다).
  • 蜩(조) – A type of cicada (쓰르라미).
  • 俯(부) – To bend down (구부리다); to incline one’s head (머리를 숙이다).
  • 臨(임) – Here, to look down (내려다 보다).
  • 濱(빈) – Shore (물가).
  • 萬頃(만경) – Enormity; boundless.
  • 牋(전) – Paper (종이).
  • 拈(념) – To hold in hand (집다).
  • 瑩凈(영정) – To be clean and bright.
  • 纖塵(섬진) – Very fine speck of dust.
  • 紛繽(분빈) – To be many and complicated (번거롭다).

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