Byeon Gyeryang (卞季良, 변계량, 1369-1430) was a late Goryeo and early Chosun dynasty literati bureaucrat. He was of the Milyang Byeon Clan (密陽卞氏, 밀양변씨); his courtesy name (字, 자) was Geogyeong (巨卿, 거경); his pen name (號, 호) was Chunjeong (春亭, 춘정); and his posthumous name (諡, 시) was Munsuk (文肅, 문숙). He was a pupil of Yi Saek (李穡, 이색, 1328-1396) and Chung Mongju (鄭夢周, 정몽주, 1337-1392). Byeon Gyeryang passed the civil entrance exam (科擧, 과거) during the Goryeo dynasty, and advanced through various posts during the Goryeo and Chosun dynasties. He participated in revising the History of Goryeo (高麗史, 고려사), and was renowned for his poetry.
In the poem below, Byeon Gyeryang commemorates Winter Solstice, or Dongji (冬至, 동지). Winter Solstice starts when the Sun reaches the celestial longitude of 270 degrees. Since the day is a solar term, it falls around December 21 on the Gregorian calendar every year but shifts on the lunar calendar. It is also the day when the Sun appears the most south from the Northern Hemisphere and when the length of daylight is the shortest. One traditional Korean custom, as described by Byeon Gyeryang below, is to consume red bean porridge, or Patjuk (팥죽).
On my embroidered silk, I add lines of thread as the pipe’s ashes fly.
During the Winter Solstice, every home makes red bean porridge.
I would like to know at what place the Yang arises.
Among the plum tree’s blossoms, one is white swaying on the southern branch.
Embroidered • patterns • to add • line • pipe • ashes • to fly
Winter • solstice • house • house • to make • bean • porridge
To intend • to know • Yang • to be born • what • place • to be
Plum tree • blossom • one • white • to sway • south • branch
- 管灰(관회) – Literally, “pipe’s ashes” or “flute’s ashes.” Refers to passing the day of the Winter Solstice. It was said that if one burned the membrane of a reed and then put the ashes in the pipe of a flute, during the Winter Solstice the ashes would fly away east. This is also an allusion to the Book of Jin (晉書, 진서, Jinseo), Chapter on Rhythm and Calendar (律歷, 율력, Yullyeok):
又葉時日於晷度, 效地氣于灰管, 故陰陽和則景至, 律氣應則灰飛.
우엽시일어구도, 교지기우회관, 고음양화즉경지, 률기응즉회비.
Again, the times and the days are counted on the sundial (晷度, 구도, “shadow measure”); the earth and the air are measured on the pipe’s ashes. Thus, when the Yin and Yang are in harmony, shadows are at their maximum; when the musical pitch and the air are compatible, the ashes [begin to] fly.
- 欲識陽生何處是(욕식양생하처시) – Yin (陰, 음) is said to fall until the Winter Solstice when Yang (陽, 양) arises, as noted in the Book of Jin above.