Shin Dolseok – Ascending the Weolsong Pavilion, I Worry About the Country

Shin Dolseok

Shin Dolseok (申乭錫, 신돌석, 1878-1908) was a Korean independence activist. He was of the Pyeongsan Shin Clan (平山申氏, 평산신씨); his original name was Taeho (泰浩, 태호); his courtesy name (字, 자) was Sun’gyeong (舜卿, 순경); and his nickname was “the Tiger of Mount Taebaek”(太白山- 虎狼-, 태백산의 호랑이). In 1905, he joined the irregular army (義兵, 의병), in response to the Japanese colonial administration’s order to cut the top-knots of hair (斷髮令, 단발령). Unlike many other irregular army leaders, he was of the commoner class (平民, 평민) and the first general that was of the commoner class. He fought the Japanese in various locations mostly in the southern half of the Korean peninsula, with varying degrees of success. In 1908, Shin Dolseok was betrayed and murdered by one of his subordinates’ brothers, who wanted to collect Japanese bounty placed on him. Even though he was of the commoner class, Shin Dolseok also composed a few poems in Classical Chinese. It should be noted that by the 18th and 19th centuries, Classical Chinese literacy was not as strong of a marker of socioeconomic class in Chosun as it did prior centuries. There were many commoners (平民, 평민) and even those of formerly of the slave caste (賤民, 천민) that were literate and even composing poetry; and conversely there were plenty of aristocratic Yangban class (兩班, 양반) that were not literate. The following was written in 1904 when Shin Dolseok turned 27.

登越松亭憂國 등월송정우국

Ascending the Weolsong Pavilion, I Worry About the Country

登樓遊子却行路 등루유자각행로
可歎檀墟落木橫 가탄단허락목횡
男兒二七成何事 남아이칠성하사
暫倚秋風感慨生 잠의추풍감개생

Having ascended the tower, a wanderer had forgotten his way.
It is pitiful that in Dangun’s ruins a fallen tree lies widthwise.
When a boy reaches twenty-seven years of age, what affairs ought he to achieve?
I briefly lean against the Autumn winds and a resentful feeling forms.

Definitions:

To ascend • tower • wandering • person • to forget • to travel • road
Can • to sigh • birch tree • ruins • to fall • tree • widthwise
Male • child • two • seven • to achieve • what • affair
Briefly • to lean • Autumn • winds • to feel • to resent • to form

Note:

  • This blogger was only able to find the translated title of this poem into Korean. The title as it appears in the post is his back-translation.
  • 越松亭(월송정) – Weolsong Pavilion is a pavilion in Pyeonghae (平海, 평해), in modern day Uljin (蔚珍, 울진).
  • 檀(단) – Refers to Dangun (檀君, 단군, 2333BC-?), the semi-legendary founder of Korea and Gojoseon (古朝鮮, 고조선, 2333BC-108BC). In context, 檀墟(단허) refers to Korea.
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