Yi Ik – Last Day of the Year

Gangjeong

Yi Ik (李瀷, 이익, 1681-1763) was a Chosun dynasty scholar of the Practical Learning Movement, or Silhak (實學, 실학). He was of the Yeoju Yi Clan (驪州李氏, 여주이씨); his courtesy name (字, 자) was Jashin (自新, 자신); and his pen name (號, 호) was Seongho (星湖, 성호). He failed the civil examination service on his first try. He however became disinterested in a government post after his brother was accused of treason and was beaten to death. Thereafter he lived at home and lived a secluded life. He wrote many works concerning government, economy, and the various customs of Chosun people at that time, including culinary practices.

In the poem below, he discusses being of old age and eating fried glutinous rice crackers, known as Gangjeong (강정), which is written in Classical Chinese as Gyeonbyeong (繭餠, 견병). This food originates back to the Han Dynasty (漢, 한, 206BC-220AD), where it was known as Han’gu (寒具, 한구), and entered Korea sometime during the Goryeo dynasty (高麗, 고려, 918–1392). Gangjeong was often used as an offering for ancestral rites, Jesa (際祀, 제사). It was also associated as a food for guests (歲饌, 세찬) for the celebration the Lunar New Year (설날). Just as the eating of Ddeokguk (떡국) on the Lunar New Year is associated with having gained one year of age (나이 한살 먹다), it seems that the eating of Gangjeong had a similar connotation as insinuated below.

除夕得隅字 제석득우자

Last Day of the Year, Composed with the Character U (隅,우)

小集懸燈鎭守隅 소집현등진수우
殘齡意與歲俱徂 잔령의여세구조
自憐後飮屠蘇者 자련후음도소자
敢道多呑繭餠乎 감도다탄견병호
除日吟詩依律令 제일음시의률령
少年分韻任歡呼 소년분운임환호
春心佇待宵中見 춘심저대소중견
聽說黃鍾一脈蘇 청설황종일파소

Gathering a few people, I hung the lamp up and tied it to the corner.
In my cruel age, my will is with the times and together they go forth.
Does he who naturally pities someone that drinks Doso (屠蘇, 도소) last,
Dare to say, “Did you gobble up a lot of Gangjeong (강정)?”
On the last day of the year, I compose poetry in accordance to the rules;
During my youth, I selected a rime and to my pleasure joyfully cheered.
Spring sentiments blankly await what appears during the night.
I have heard word that one pitch of Hwangjong (黃鍾, 황종) has been revived.

Notes:

  • Doso (屠蘇, 도소) is a type of medicinal alcohol. It was believed that this drinking would make people live longer, by getting rid of the evil energy (邪氣, 사기) from the body.
  • The fourth line is a reference to a poem by Su Shi (蘇軾, 소식, So Shik, 1037-1101), titled On the Last Night of the Year Sleeping in the Fields Outside Changzhou  (除夜野宿常州城外, 제야야숙상주성외). Below is an excerpt:

但把窮愁博長健 단파궁수박장건
不辭最後飮屠蘇 불사최후음도소

Only grasping the worries of destitution and change it to longevity;
I do not decline drinking Doso (屠蘇, 도소) at the very last.

  • Hwangjong (黃鍾, 황종) refers to the first note of twelve in Oriental music.

Characters:

  • 隅(우) – Corner (모퉁이).
  • 鎭守(진수) – To station troops in an valuable place. Probably used metaphorically here.
  • 殘齡(잔령) – Literally means, “cruel age.” It refers to old age.
  • 呑(탄) – To gobble up (삼키다).
  • 繭(견) – Cocoon (고치).
  • 除日(제일) – Literally means “remaining day.” It refers to the last day of the year.
  • 任(임) – Here, “as one pleases” (마음대로).
  • 佇(저) – To stand blankly (우두커니 서다).

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