The Annotated Classic of Poetry – The Overgrown Mugworts


The Classic of Poetry (詩經, 시경) is one of the oldest poetry collections known to mankind, with some poems dating back to the 10th century BC. Because of its age, it is probably one of the hardest, if not the hardest, Classical Chinese works to read. Luckily, it is more bearable to read if read with annotations. Zhu Xi (朱熹, 주희, Ju Heui, 1130-1200) compiled an annotated version of the Classic of Poetry (詩經集註, 시경집주), explaining the different meanings of characters as well as what various verses are supposed to symbolize. The poem below is about gratitude for one’s parents, fitting in light of the fact that in Korea it was Parents’ Day (어버이날) on May 8th and in America it will be Mothers’ Day on May 12th.

蓼莪 육아

The Overgrown Mugworts

蓼蓼者莪 匪莪伊蒿 육육자아 비아이호
哀哀父母 生我劬勞 애애부모 생아구로

Thick and overgrown is the mugwort; it is not the mugwort, but this wormwood.
How sad and triste were my father and mother! To have begotten me with toil and labor.

比也. 蓼, 長大貌. 莪, 美菜也. 蒿, 賤草也.
비야. 육, 장대모. 아, 미채야. 호, 천초야.

This is an explicit comparison (比, 비, Bi). 蓼 (육, Yuk) is the shape of [something] large and big. 莪 (아, A) is a type of beautiful vegetable. 蒿 (호, Ho) is a type of vulgar weed.

人民勞苦, 孝子不得終養, 而作此詩. 言昔謂之莪, 而今非莪也, 特蒿而已,
인민로고, 효자부득종양, 이작차시. 언석위지아, 이금비아야, 특호이이,

As the people labor and toil, a filially pious son could not in the end support [his parents] and wrote this poem. It was said in the past he was a [beautiful] mugwort but now not a [beautiful] mugwort and is especially only a [vulgar] wormwood.

以比父母生我, 以爲美材可賴以終其身, 而今乃不得其養以死.
이비부모생아, 이위미재가뢰이종기신, 이금내부득기양이사.

This is a comparison to his parents’ begetting me, so that he became a beautiful timber and was able to be trusted so that he completed his body, but now hereon he was unable to support [his parents] and died.

 於是, 乃言父母生我之劬勞, 而重自哀傷也.
어시, 내언부모생아지구로, 이중자애상야.

Thereupon, he spoke of his parents’ toils and labors in begetting me and once again became sad and distressed.

蓼蓼者莪 匪莪伊蔚 육육자아 비아이위
哀哀父母 生我勞瘁 애애부모 생아로췌

Thick and overgrown is the mugwort; it is not the mugwort, but this sagebrush.
How sad and triste were my father and mother! To have begotten me with toil and suffering.

比也. 蔚, 牡菣也, 三月始生, 七月始華, 如胡麻華而紫赤, 八月爲角, 似小豆, 角銳而長. 瘁, 病也.
비야. 위, 모견야, 삼월시생, 칠월시화, 여호마화이자적, 팔월위각, 사소두, 각예이장, 췌, 병야.

This is an explicit comparison (比, 비, Bi). 蔚 (위, Wi) is an apiacea; in March first sprouts; in July first blossoms, like a hemp blossom and is purple and red; and in August grows a horn, similar to a small bean and its horns are sharp and long. 瘁 (췌, chwe) is to be sick.

      • 菣(견) – Apiacea.

缾之罊矣 維罍之恥 병지경의 유뢰지치
鮮民之生 不如死之久矣 선민지생 불여사지구의
無父何怙 無母何恃 무부하호 무모하시
出則銜恤 入則靡至 출즉함휼 입즉마지

The emptiness of the pitcher, it is only the shame of the jar.
The lives of orphaned people, they are not like length of death.
Without a father, who is there to rely on? Without a mother, who is there to depend on?
To leave is to bite on grief; to enter is to go nowhere.

      • 怙(호) – To trust or rely upon.

比也. 缾, 小. 罍, 大, 皆酒器也. 罄, 盡. 鮮, 寡. 恤, 憂. 靡, 無也.
비야. 병, 소. 뢰, 대, 개주기야. 경, 진. 선, 과. 휼, 우, 마, 무야.

This is a explicit comparison (比, 비). 缾 (병, byeong) is small; 罍 (뢰, roe) is large; they both are wine bottles. 罄 (경, gyeong) is to run out. 鮮 (선, seon) is to be orphaned. 恤 (휼, hyul) is anxiety. 靡 (마, ma) is nothing.

言缾資於罍, 而罍資缾, 猶父母與子相依爲命也.
언병자어뢰, 이뢰자병, 유부모여자상의위명야.

This is saying that a small wine bottle forms the basis of the large wine bottle and the large wine bottle forms the basis of the small wine bottle, and that this is similar to parents and sons mutually depending on one another to survive.

故, 缾罄矣, 乃罍之恥, 猶父母不得其所, 乃子之責. 所以窮獨之民, 生不如死也.
고, 병경의, 내뢰지치, 유부모부득기소, 내자지책. 소이궁독지민, 생불여사야.

Therefore, when the small wine bottle empties, it is the large wine bottle’s shame. This is similar to what the parents have been able to obtain and becomes the responsibility of the son. For that reason, people who are in destitute and alone live no better than death.

蓋無父則無所怙. 無母則無所恃. 是以, 出則中心銜恤, 入則如無所歸也.
개무부즉무소호. 무모즉무소시. 시이, 출즉중심함휼, 입즉여무소귀야.

In general, without a father, there is no one to rely upon and without a mother, there is no one to depend on. For this reason, to leave is to hold anxieties within the heart and to enter is like not returning.

父兮生我 母兮鞠我 부혜생아 모혜국아
拊我畜我 長我育我 부아축아 장아육아
顧我復我 出入腹我 고아부아 출입복아
欲報之德 昊天罔極 욕보지덕 호청망극

Father, who has begotten me! Mother, who has nourished me!
You have patted me; you have fed me; you have upreared me; you have nurtured me;
You have looked after me; you have returned to me; and out and in you bore me.
I wish to recompense your graces; it is like the grand heavens, boundless.

賦也. 生者, 本其氣也. 鞠, 畜, 皆養也. 拊, 拊循也. 育, 覆育也.
부야. 생자, 본기기야. 국, 축, 개양야. 부, 부돈야. 육, 부육야.

This is a narrative poem (賦, 부). To be begotten (生, 생) is to make one’s vitality, the root. 鞠 (국, Guk) and 畜 (축, Chuk) are both to nourish. 拊 (부, Bu) is to pat and to sooth. 育 (육, Yuk) is to nurture.

顧, 旋視也. 復, 反覆也. 腹, 懷抱也. 罔, 無. 極, 窮也.
고, 선시야. 복, 반부야. 복, 회포야. 망, 무. 극, 궁야.

顧 (고, Go) is to turn around and look. 復 (복, Bok) is to return. 腹 (복, Bok) is to hug and bear. 罔 (망, Mang) is without. 極 (극, Geuk) is bounds.

言父母之恩如此. 欲報之以德, 而其恩之大, 如天無窮, 不知所以爲報也.
언부모지은여차. 욕보지이덕, 이기은지대, 여천무궁, 불지소이위보야.

This is to say that the parents’ kindness are like this: I wish to recompense their graces and the greatness of their kindness, which like heaven is without bounds, but I do not know how to recompense.

南山烈烈 飄風發發 남산렬렬 표풍발발
民莫不穀 我獨何害 민막불곡 아독하할

The Southern Mountain is large and high; the whirlwind is fast and rapid.
The people are not not-happy; Why am I alone hurting?

興也. 烈烈, 高大貌. 發發, 疾貌. 穀, 善也.
흥야. 렬렬, 고대모. 발발, 질모. 곡, 선야.

This is a implicit comparison (興, 흥). 烈烈 (열렬, Yeolryeol) is the shape of something high and large. 發發 (발발, Balbal) is the shape of something fast. 穀 (곡, Gok) is to favor.

南山烈烈, 則飄風發發矣, 民莫不善, 而我獨何爲遭此害也哉.
남산렬렬, 즉표풍발발의, 민막불선, 이아독하위조차해야재.

Since the Southern Mountain is large and high, the whirlwind is fast and rapid. The people are not not-happy, but why do I alone face this pain?

南山律律 飄風弗弗 남산률률 표풍불불
民莫不穀 我獨不卒 민막불곡 아독부졸

The Southern Mountain is big and tall; the whirlwind is quick and swift.
The people are not not-happy; Why am I alone not finish?

興也. 律律, 猶烈烈也. 弗弗, 猶發發也. 卒, 終也. 言終養也.
흥야. 률률, 유렬렬야. 불불, 유발발야. 졸, 종야. 언종양야.

This is a implicit comparison (興, 흥). 律律 (율률, Yulryul) is similar to 烈烈 (열렬, Yeolryeol). 弗弗 (불불, Bulbul) is similar to 發發 (발발, Balbal). 卒 (졸, Jol) is to finish, that is, to finish supporting [one’s parents].

晉王裒, 以父死非罪, 每讀詩, 至哀哀父母, 生我劬勞, 未嘗不三復流涕.
진왕부, 이부사비죄, 매독시, 지애애부모, 생아구로, 미상불삼복류제.

Wang Pou (王裒, 왕부, Wang Bu, ?-311) of the Jin Dynasty, because his father passed away for not a crime, every time read the poem to “How sad and triste were my father and mother! To have begotten me with toil and labor” (哀哀父母 生我劬勞) and soon reading it thrice never did not cry.

受業者, 爲廢此篇, 詩之感人, 如此.
수업자, 위폐차편, 차지감인, 여차.

Those who have received the work [of lecturing] have removed this work. How people are moved by the poem is like this.


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