Yi I (李珥, 이이, 1536-1584) was a Chosun dynasty literati bureaucrat and a Neo-Confucian scholar. He was of the Deoksu Yi Clan (德水李氏, 덕수이씨); his courtesy name (字, 자) was Sukheon (叔獻, 숙헌); his pen name (號, 호) was Yulgok (栗谷, 율곡). He is revered as not only a Neo-Confucian scholar who wrote many treatises but also as a political reformer. One of his notable proposed reforms but that was ultimately rejected was strengthening the military, in response to the threat of an imminent Japanese invasion, which occurred some eight years after his death. He first appeared on the 5000 Won note in 1972 and still appears on Korean currency today.
At Hodang, Sitting Throughout the Night
In Hodang (湖堂, 호당), as for a long time I have been unable to sleep,
The energy of the night appears to me vividly.
The leaves have all fallen and know the Autumn’s elderliness;
And the river is clear and see the Moon’s liveliness.
The loose pine tree shakes its shadow atop the stool;
And the frontier wild goose drops its voice on the sand.
I naturally become ashamed: the red dust’s guest
Faces the flowing waters, but has not yet washed his hat string.
- Hodang (湖堂, 호당) is a library first established in 1426 by King Sejong (世宗, 세종, 1397-1450, r. 1418–1450) where renowned scholars and literati bureaucrats would be sent to study and cultivate their knowledge. In 1491, King Seongjong (成宗, 성종, 1457-1494, r. 1469-1494) renovated a dilapidated Buddhist temple that is now located in Yongsan (龍山, 용산) and made it into a Hodang. King Jeongjo (正祖, 정조, 1752-1800, r. 1776-1800) abolished the Hodang, and expanded the Gyujanggak Royal Library (奎章閣, 규장각).
- “Has not yet washed his hat string” (未濯纓, 미탁영) is a reference to Qu Yuan’s (屈原, 굴원, Gul Weon, 343-278 BC) Fisherman’s Song (漁父辭, 어부사):
“If the waters of the ocean waves are clean, I can wash my hat-string.
If the waters of the ocean waves are muddy, I can wash my feet.”
- 榻(탑) – Stool (걸상).
- 紅塵(홍진) – Literally means “red dust” and refers to the secular mundane world.
- 纓(영) – Hat string (갓끈).