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). In 1534, he passed the civil service examination (科擧, 과거) in second place (乙科, 을과), and served on various bureaucratic posts. As for his philosophical contributions, he is most remembered for his Neo-Confucian metaphysics debates with Ki Daeseung (奇大升, 기대승, 1527-1572) and his founding of the Dosan Confucian Academy (陶山書院, 도산서원) in 1570, which would produce many scholars and literati. Today, most Koreans recognize him as the figure whose face graces the 1000 Won Korean currency note.
In the poem below, Yi Hwang describes his thoughts during the Start of Spring, or Ipchun (立春, 입춘), one of the 24 solar terms. It falls on February 4th on the Gregorian calendar and varies on the traditional Lunar calendar, as Ipchun begins when the Sun reaches the celestial longitude of 315 and ends when it passes 330 degrees.
Second Day of the First Month, Start of Spring
Within these yellow-stained volumes, I encounter the saints and sages.
In the empty but bright single room, I sit solitarily.
The plum tree outside my window again sees the news of Spring’s arrival.
Facing my jade zither, I do not sigh over a broken string.
Yellow • books • middle • space • to face • saints • sages
Empty • bright • one • room • to sit • to be aloof • grammar particle
Plum tree • window • again • to see • Spring • news • news
Not • to face • jade • zither • to sigh • broken • string