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