Eo Mujeok – Lamentations of Vagrant People


Eo Mujeok (魚無迹/魚無跡/魚無赤, 어무적, ?-?) was a Chosun Dynasty poet that lived during the late 15th and early 16th centuries. He was of the Hamjong Eo Clan (咸從魚氏, 함종어씨); his courtesy name (字, 자) was Jambu (潛夫, 잠부); and his pen name (號, 호) was Nangseon (浪仙, 낭선). His father, Eo Hyoryang (魚孝良, 어효량, ?-?), was of the aristocratic Yangban (兩班, 양반) class and was a literati bureaucrat; however, his mother was a government maidservant slave (官婢, 관비) and the laws of that time dictated that Eo Mujeok be born into the slave caste (賤民, 천민). He received education from his father, eventually became a freeman (免賤, 면천), and served for some time in a low ranked bureaucratic post. In 1501, Eo Mujeok petitioned Prince Yeonsan (燕山君, 연산군, 1476-1506, r. 1494-1506) that he follow the Confucian ideals of governance and demanded that the monarch: straighten out the country’s foundations, foster Confucian scholars, prohibit female musicians and entertainers, ban alcohol, outlaw Buddhism, and stop the construction of forts. His petition was, however, dismissed without reply. Throughout his works, he frequently wrote about commoners’ plight as he too had an impoverished life. He was also so renowned for his poetry that his works were well known in Ming Dynasty China.

流民歎 유민탄

Lamentations of Vagrant People

蒼生難蒼生難 창생난창생난
年貧爾無食 년빈이무식
我有濟爾心 아유제이심
而無濟爾力 이무제이력

O, the hardships of the green lives! O, the hardships of the green lives!
Since the year has been poor, you all have no food.
I have the heart to help you,
But I have not the power to help you.

Green • lives • hardship • green • lives • hardship
Year • famine • you • to not have • food
I • to have • to aid • you • heart
But • to have not • to aid • you • strength

  • 蒼生(창생) – Literally “green lives.” Refers to “common people.”

蒼生苦蒼生苦 창생고창생고
天寒爾無衾 천한이무금
彼有濟爾力 피유제이력
而無濟爾心 이무제이심

O, the toils of the green lives! O, the toils of the green lives!
The weather is cold, but you all have no blankets.
They have the power to help you,
But they have not the heart to help you.

Green • lives • pain • green • lives • pain
Weather • cold • you • to have not • covers
They • to have • to aid • you • strength
But • to not have • to aid • you • heart

  • 彼(피) – “They.” Refers to those in power.

願回小人腹 원회소인복
暫爲君子慮 잠위군자려
暫借君子耳 잠차군자이
試聽小民語 시청소민어

I would like to turn the stomach of a mean person,
For a moment pursue the thoughts of an exemplary man;
For a moment borrow the ears of an exemplary man;
And attempt to listen the words of the mean people.

To want • to turn over • mean • person • stomach
Briefly • to pursue • exemplary • man • thoughts
Briefly • to borrow • exemplary • man • ears
To attempt • to hear • mean • people • words

  • 小人(소인) – “Mean person” or “base person.” Refers to someone lowly and vulgar, in contrast to the Confucian ideal of an exemplary person (君子, 군자).

小民有語君不知 소민유어군부지
今歲蒼生皆失所 금세창생개실소
北闕雖下憂民詔 북궐수하우민조
州縣傳看一虛紙 주현전간일허지

The mean people have things to say; but the King does not know.
This year, all the green lives have lost their places.
Although from the Northern Palace, they slip edicts worrying about the commoners,
In the counties and prefectures, they only see it as one empty paper.

Mean • people • to have • words • King • not • to know
Today • year • green • lives • all • to lose • places
Northern • palaces • although • to slip • to worry • people • edicts
Counties • prefectures • only • to see • one • empty • paper

  • 北闕(북궐) – Refers to the Gyeongbok Palace (景福宮, 경복궁), Changdeok Palace (昌德宮, 창덕궁), and Gyeongheui Palace (慶熙宮, 경희궁).
  • 州縣(주현) – Refers to the countryside, outside the capital.

特遣京官問民瘼 특견경관문민막
馹騎日馳三百里 일기일치삼백리
何暇面陳心內事 하가면진심내사

Even if a specially dispatched capital bureaucrat to inquire about the commoners’ complaints,
Rode a post horse and for one day galloped three hundred li (里, 리),
Our people have no strength to leave the confines of their doors;
With what free time can they face to give testimony about their heart’s inner affairs?

Specially • to dispatch • capital • bureaucrat • to ask • people • nuisance
Post horse • to ride • day • to gallop • three • hundred • li
Our • people • to not have • strength • to leave • door • limits
What • leisure • to face • to talk • heart • inner • affairs

  • 民瘼(민막) – Inconveniences to the general public.
  • 里(리) – Li is a unit measuring distance. 1 li is about 393 meters (0.24 miles). 300 li is about 118 km (73 miles).

縱使一郡一京官 종사일군일경관
京官無耳民無口 경관무이민무구
不如喚起汲淮陽 불여환기급회양
未死孑遺猶可救 미사혈유유가구

 Supposing if in one county there was one capital bureaucrat,
The capital bureaucrat has no ears and the people have no mouths;
They cannot call forth Geup Hoiyang (汲淮陽, 급회양),
And be able to save the not-quite dead lonely remnant people.

Even if • even if • one • county • one • capital • bureaucrat
Capital • bureaucrat • to not have • ears • people • to not have • mouths
To not • to be like • to call • forth • Surname • name • name
Not yet • dead • lonely • remaining • still • to be able • to save

  • 汲淮陽(급회양) – Refers to Ji An (汲黯, 급암, Geup Am, ?-112 BC). He was a near-legendary literati bureaucrat in charge of remonstrances and petitions to the Emperor (諫臣, 간신) during the reign of Emperor Wu (漢武帝, 한무제, Hanmuje, 156-87 BC, r. 141-87 BC) of Han Dynasty (漢, 한, Han, 206 BC-220 AD). His last bureaucratic position was as the Minister of Huaiyang (淮陽太守, 회양태수) and hence his name in the poem. To get a sense of how severely he remonstrated the Emperor and why Eo Mujeok looked up to him, here is a passage from the Record of the Grand Historian (史記, 사기) about the minister:

天子方招文學儒者, 上曰吾欲云云,
천자방초문학유자, 상왈오욕운운,

The Son of Heaven (Emperor) at that time invited literary scholars, and the Emperor said, “I want so and so.”

黯對曰: “陛下內多欲而外施仁義, 柰何欲效唐虞之治乎!”
암대와: “폐하내다욕이외시인의, 내하욕교당우지치호!”

Ji An replied, “Your Highness on the inside has many [selfish] desires but on the outside bestows benevolence and righteousness. How can you intend to emulate governance of Masters Taotang (陶唐氏, 도당씨, Dodangssi) and Youyu (有虞氏, 유우씨, Yu’ussi)!” 

    • 唐虞(당우) – Refers to Emperors Yao (堯, 요, Yo) and Shun (舜, 순, Sun) from the 23rd and 22nd centuries BC. They are considered the role model monarchs in Confucianism.

上黙然, 怒, 變色而罷朝. 公卿皆爲黯懼. 上退, 謂左右曰: “甚矣, 汲黯之戇也!”
상묵연, 노, 변색이파조. 공경개위암구. 상퇴, 위좌우왈: “심의, 급암지당야!”

The Emperor became silent, became angered, [his face] became discolored, and dismissed the court. All the high ministers viewed Ji An with fear. The Emperor left, called his left-and-right-hand attendants, and said, “That was severe, Ji An’s tactlessness!”


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