Hong Setae – Seven Songs of Yeomgok Excerpt

Hong Setae

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.

鹽谷七歌 염곡칠가

Seven Songs of Yeomgok

其一 기일

First Song

有客有客字道長 유객유객자도장
自謂平生志慨忼 자위평생지개강
讀書萬卷何所用 독서만권하소용
遲暮雄圖落草莽 지모웅도락초망
誰敎騏驥伏鹽車 수교기기복염차
太行山高不可上 태항산고불가상
嗚呼一歌兮歌欲發 오호일가혜가욕발
白日浮雲忽陰結 백일부운홀음결

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).


其三 기삼

Third Song

有女有女在九原 유녀유녀재구원
想爾抱恨爲寃魂 상이포한위원혼
上有父母下兒女 상유부모하아녀
哀哉不忍聽遺言 애재불인청유언
經霜老木猶未死 경상로목유미사
縱復花開可庇根 종복화개가비근
嗚呼三歌兮歌轉惻 오호삼가가전측
麥飯何由作寒食 맥반하유작한식

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.


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