Shim Sutaek – Thinking of My Mother

Shim Sutaek

Shim Sutaek (沈守澤, 심수택, 1879-1910) was a Confucian school teacher and Korean independence activist. He was of the Cheongsong Shim Clan (靑松沈氏, 청송심씨); his courtesy name (字, 자) was Nam’il (南一, 남일); his pen name (號, 호) was Deokhong (德弘, 덕홍). Prior to the Japanese Protectorate Treaty of 1905 (乙巳條約, 을사조약), he was a head of a township (面長, 면장) and a Confucian schoolmaster. In response to that treaty, Shim Sutaek joined an irregular military (義兵, 의병) and fought Japanese forces around Jeolla province (全羅道, 전라도), in the southwestern part of Korea. In 1909, after dismissing troops, he and another military general were caught in Neungju (陵州, 능주), located in modern day Hwasun County (和順郡, 화순군) in South Jeolla Province (全羅南道, 전라남도). His fellow military general was shot on the spot and Shim Sutaek was taken to Daegu Prison, where he was executed by hanging on July of 1910. He wrote a number of Classical Chinese texts, including his war journal entries, and composed several poems in prison while waiting to be executed. In the poem below, he accuses himself of transgressing filial piety (孝, 효) for failing to save Korea from the Japanese.

思萱堂 사훤당

Thinking of My Mother

堂上吾親白髮新 당상오친백발신
幾年拜退走兵塵 기년배퇴주병진
國危未濟家鄕隔 국위미제가향격
天地環爲不孝人 천지환위불효인

Above the hall, my parents are thick with white hair.
How many years has it been since I bowed and stepped to run away to the dust of the battlefield?
Having not yet saved the country from this crisis and being separated from the home village,
Around the heavens and the earth, I have become a man who has transgressed filial piety.

Definitions:

House • above • my • parents • white • hair • to be thick
How many • years • to bow • to step away • to run • soldiers • dust
Country • crisis • not yet • to save • family • hometown • to separate
Heaven • earth • around • to be • not • filial piety • man

Notes:

  • 萱堂(훤당) – Normally an honorific name for another’s mother, but in this poem the word seems to be directed at his own mother.
  • 兵塵(병진) – Literally means “weapon dust” or “soldiers’ dust.” Refers to a battlefield.
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