Yi Hwang – At Mount Do in the Moonlit Night a Poem on the Plum Tree

1000 Won - Yi Hwang

Yi Hwang (李滉, 이황, 1501-1570) was a Chosun dynasty Neo-Confucian scholar and literati bureaucrat. He was of the Jinbo Yi Clan (眞寶李氏, 진보이씨); his courtesy name (字, 자) was Gyeongho (景浩, 경호); his pen name (號, 호) was Toegye (退溪, 퇴계); and his posthumous name (諡, 시) was Munsun (文純, 문순). As a Neo-Confucian Scholar, he is famous for writing several treatises on Neo-Confucianism and establishing the Dosan Seoweon (陶山書院, 도산서원), a private Confucian academy. As a literati bureaucrat, he was appointed various offices and served four kings of the Chosun dynasty. Upon his death, he was posthumously promoted to the highest ministerial office and bestowed a posthumous name. Yi Hwang first appeared on the 1000 Won note in 1983, when the Bank of Korea started printing Korean Confucian scholars on all of its currency notes.

陶山月夜詠梅 도산원야영매

At Mount Do in the Moonlit Night a Poem on the Plum Tree

獨倚山窓夜色寒 독기산창야색한
梅梢月上正團團 매초월상정단단
不須更喚微風至 불수갱환미풍지
自有淸香滿院間 자유청향만원간

Alone I lean on the window to the mountain; the night hue becomes cold.
At the tip of the plum tree, the moon rises, perfectly round and circular.
Even if I should not again call the winds to arrive,
Naturally, there is pure fragrance filling the space of my house.

步屧中庭月趁人 보섭중정월진인
梅邊行繞幾回巡 매변행요기회순
夜深坐久渾忘起 야심좌구혼망기
香滿衣布影滿身 향만의포영만신

Walking in my wooden shoes in the courtyard, the moon follows me.
At the edges of the plum tree, I travel around; how many times did I revolve around?
As the night grows deep, sitting for awhile, it becomes blurry and I forget to stand up.
The fragrance fills my clothes and the shadow fills my body.

晩發梅兄更識眞 만발매형갱식진
故應知我怯寒辰 고은지아겁한신
可憐此夜宜蘇病 가련차양의소병
能作終宵對月人 능작종소대월인

The late-blossoming plum is magnificent and still more recognizes the truth.
Therefore, it certainly knows me and that I fear the cold season.
What a pity! If this night justly revives me from my illness,
Then I can make me the entire night a man facing the moon.

Notes:

  • Mount Do (陶山, 도산, Do San) is a mountain north of Andong (安東, 안동).

Characters:

  • 梢(초) – The end tip of a tree branch (나뭇가지의 끝).
  • 喚(환) – To call (부르다).
  • 屧(섭) – Wooden shoes (나막신).
  • 趁(진) – To follow (쫓다).
  • 繞(요) – To cover (두르다).
  • 渾(훈) – To be blurry (흐리다).
  • 兄(형) – Here, to be excellent (훌륭하다).
  • 宵(소) – Night (밤).
3 comments
  1. Jeff said:

    This is one of the most beautiful poems I ever came across and your translation, tantalizing. Here’s my translation as seen through the eyes of a student of Classical Chinese. I am translating as I read the Hanja without any knowledge of Korean culture or allusions. All are in the eyes of a Chinese. So please forgive me if I am contrary to your intent🙂 Thanks for sharing this most delightful poem. I shall use it in my blog as well.

    獨倚山窓夜色寒 Alone as I lean against the window of my mountain home, the colors of the night have become cold,
    梅梢月上正團團 Over the plum1 bough tips, the moon rises in perfectness.
    不須更喚微風至 Need no call for the gentle breeze for a visit,
    自有淸香滿院間 For the courtyard is brimming with subtle fragrance.

    步屧中庭月趁人 In my wooden clogs, I stroll in the courtyard with the moon following,
    梅邊行繞幾回巡 How many times have I wound around these plum trees?
    夜深坐久渾忘起 Long have I sat, completely forgetting the night had deepened so.
    香滿衣布影滿身 My clothes soaked in utter fragrance, my shadow no more 2

    晩發梅兄更識眞 Late is the night and my brother Plum knows me well.
    故應知我怯寒辰 For he knows that I fear the hours of cold.
    可憐此夜宜蘇病 To love 3 this night any longer, my illness will thus recur once more,
    能作終宵對月人 How I wish I could spend the entire night with the Man-in-the-Moon.4

    1. In Chinese, 梅 is plum or the Japanese apricot (Prunus mume) and apricot is 杏. I don’t know if apricots really grow on Mt. Do in Korea. I don’t think most Koreans will accept “Japanese apricot” in the translation due to historical reasons.

    2. I translated as such because the moon is at its height overhead, hence no shadow cast. Again emphasizing how late the night is.

    3. In modern Chinese, 可憐 means pity. However, 憐 in classical Chinese means love in a very tender and sentimental way that it becomes almost pitiful. 可 = can. 可憐 = can love so much. For example, in the Tang poem, we have this example, Po Chu I’s 「暮江吟」”一道殘陽鋪水中,半江瑟瑟半江紅。 可憐九月初三夜, 露似真珠月似弓”

    4. The God of Marriage who ties red threads to all those are destined to become husbands and wives, etc.

    • 歸源 said:

      Thank you for your comments. I’ve made a few corrections suggested by you. I’m not the type to get easily offended. As you know from this blog, Korean poets often make references to Chinese poems and classics. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were one in this poem here.

      I’ve only translated three verses of the poem. The original has six. I only realized there were more verses until after I translated.

      獨倚山窓夜色寒。梅梢月上正團團。不須更喚微風至。自有淸香滿院間。
      山夜寥寥萬境空。白梅涼月伴仙翁。箇中唯有前灘響。揚似爲商抑似宮。
      步屧中庭月趁人。梅邊行遶幾回巡。夜深坐久渾忘起。香滿衣巾影滿身。
      晩發梅兄更識眞。故應知我怯寒辰。可憐此夜宜蘇病。能作終宵對月人。
      往歲行歸喜裛香。去年病起又尋芳。如今忍把西湖勝。博取東華軟土忙。
      老艮歸來感晦翁。託梅三復嘆羞同。一杯勸汝今何得。千載相思淚點胸。

      • Jeff said:

        You are most welcome. You have opened us to other sights not of this world🙂 From Li Po’s 別有天地非人間🙂 When I have the time, I shall try to translate the rest of the poem.

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