Hong Setae (洪世泰, 홍세태, 1653-1725) was a Chosun Dynasty poet and petty bureaucrat. He was of the Namyang Hong Clan (南陽洪氏, 남양홍씨); his courtesy name (字, 자) was Dojang (道長, 도장); and his pen names (號, 호) were Changrang (滄浪, 창랑) and Yuha (柳下, 유하). His father, Hong Ikha (洪翊夏, 홍익하, ?-?) was a military official (武官, 무관); his mother, however, was a slave and the laws at the time dictated that Hong Setae be born in the slave caste (賤民, 천민). His aptitude in Classical Chinese was recognized from a young age. Sometime after, he became a freed commoner (良人, 양인). He accompanied a diplomatic trip to Japan and then passed a service exam to be a translator official (譯官, 역관). Hong Setae was so renowned for his poetry that he was promoted to a low-rank bureaucratic office. In addition, his works were not only known in Japan, but also in Qing Dynasty China: when a Chinese diplomat asked to see Korean poetry, the State Councilor (左議政, 좌의정) Choi Seokjeong (崔錫鼎, 최석정, 1646-1715) recommended Hong Setae’s poems to King Sukjong (肅宗, 숙종, 1661-1720, r. 1674-1720), who stated that he already knew of his poetry and approved the selection. As someone not from an aristocratic background, Hong Setae described the plight of commoners often in his poems. Despite his promotions, he did not have a very fortunate life: all of his children died at a premature age as hinted in the poem below.
Seven Songs of Yeomgok
There is a guest! There is a guest! His courtesy name is Dojang.
By himself he says that all his life his will was indignant and fervent.
Having read books, what use is there for these ten thousand volumes?
Who will make a well-bred horse submit to a salt carriage?
Delaying the sunset, a sublime plan falls to the grasses and thickets.
Mount Taehaeng (太行山, 태행산) is high and cannot be ascended.
Oh, alas! This is the first song, the song that I wish to emit.
The white sun and the floating clouds suddenly become dim and tied.
To have • guest • to have • guest • courtesy name • name • name
By oneself • to call • entire • life • will • to be indignant • to be fervent
To read • books • ten thousand • volumes • how • grammar particle • to use
To delay • evening • sublime • plan • to fall • grass • thicket
Great • travel • mountain • to be high • not • to be able • to ascend
Oh • oh • first • song • song • to intend • to emit
White • sun • to float • clouds • suddenly • to be dim • to tie
- Yeomgok (鹽谷, 염곡), literally “salt valley,” is modern day Mugyo-Dong (武橋洞, 무교동) in Seoul.
- 遲暮(지모) – Literally, “delayed evening” or “delayed sunset.” Refers to one’s aging.
- 騏驥(기기) – Literally, “well-bred horse.” Refers to an erudite scholar.
- 太行山(태행산) – Mount Taehaeng is a mountain in modern day North Gyeongsang Province (慶尙北道, 경상북도), Cheongsong County (靑松郡, 청송군).
There’s a daughter! There’s a daughter! She resides in the Ninth Origin.
Thinking of you, you held your grief and became a resentful spirit.
Above, there is her father and mother; below, sons and daughters.
O, how sad it is! To have not endured hearing your remaining words.
Passing by the frost, the old tree nonetheless does not die,
Even though again the flowers blossom and can protect their roots.
Oh, alas! This is the third song, a song that is more sorrowful.
With barley rice, how can I make a cold food?
To have • daughter • to have • daughter • to reside • ninth • origin
To think • you • to hold inside • grief • to become • resentful • soul
Above • to have • father • mother • below • children • daughter
To be sad • grammar particle • not • to endure • to hear • remaining • saying
To pass by • again • flowers • to blossom • can • to cover • roots
Oh • oh • third • song • song • more • to be sad
Barley • meal • how • from • to make • cold • food
- 九原(구원) – Literally, “ninth origin.” Refers to death or afterlife.
- 寒食(한식) – Refers to the Cold Food Festival, which falls on April 5th.
- 염곡칠가 홍세태 [鹽谷七歌 洪世泰] 조선시대 한시읽기(下) (Korean translation and annotation)