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.
Lamentations of Vagrant People
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.”
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.
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).
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.
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).
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:
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!”