Yi Danjeon (李亶佃, 이단전, 1755-1790) was a Chosun dynasty poet. He was of the Yeon’an Yi Clan (延安李氏, 연안이씨); his courtesy name (字, 자) was Un’gi (耘岐, 운기); his pen names were Piljae (疋齋, 필재), Pilhan (疋漢), and Injae (因齋, 인재). He always had on a bamboo braid hat typically worn by lower classes of Korean society, called a Paeraeng’i (패랭이). This was transliterated as Pyeongryangja (平涼子, 평량자) into Hanja (漢字, 한자), and hence his nickname was Yi Pyeongryang (李平涼, 이평량) for this reason. As is clearly evident from his names, Yi Danjeon was a member of the slave caste (賤民, 천민). He worked in a household with the surname Yu (兪氏, 유씨). He first learned Classical Chinese from members of the non-aristocratic poetry circle known as the Songseokweon Shisa (松石園詩社, 송석원시사). Yi Danjeon eventually became so renowned for his poetry that members of the aristocratic Yangban (兩班, 양반) class invited him regularly to compose poetry with them and young aristocrats seeking bureaucratic offices paid him to write Classical Chinese texts on their behalf. For a slave, he lived a rather eccentric life; however, because of his inability to climb up in Chosun society, Yi Danjeon despaired. He fell into alcoholism spending all his earned money on booze, and died of alcohol poisoning at the age of 39 in 1790.
Writing About King Gwan’s Shrine
The old shrine is secluded and deep; the daytime is bleak.
Clearly, the remaining portrait is in Han dynasty (漢,한) clothes and headwear.
At that very time, the affairs of the middle plains were not yet complete.
The Red Hare, for a thousand years, has not had its saddle undone.
Old • shrine • to be secluded • to be deep • white • day • to be bleak
Clearly • grammatical marker • remnant • image • Han dynasty • clothes • headwear
That • time • not yet • to complete • middle • plains • affairs
Red • hare • thousand • years • not • to undo • saddle
- 關王廟(관왕묘) – King Gwan refers to Guan Yu (關羽, 관우, Gwan U, 160-219), a famous Chinese general from the Three Kingdoms period. In Seoul, there are two shrines commemorating Guan Yu. One is South King Gwan’s Shrine (南關王廟, 남관왕묘), located outside of Namdaemun (南大門, 남대문) in Huamdong (厚岩洞, 후암동). The other is East King Gwan’s Shrine (東關王廟, 동관왕묘), located outside of Dongdaemun (東大門, 동대문). In addition, there are two other shrines outside of Seoul in Andong (安東, 안동) and Sangju (尙州, 상주) in North Gyeongsang Province (慶尙北道, 경상북도). In his poem, Yi Danjeon is referring to the the South King Gwan’s Shrine, which had a statue of General Guan Yu on the Red Hare, a mythical horse. King Seonjo (宣祖, 선조, 1552-1608, r. 1567-1608) ordered the construction of the South King Gwan’s Shrine in 1598 to offer rites to General Guan Yu, at the request of Ming Chinese generals, who fought against the Japanese during Hideyoshi’s Invasion of Korea (壬辰倭亂, 임진왜란, Imjin Waeran, 1592-1598). The shrine was destroyed by a fire in 1899 and was rebuilt in 1901. It was destroyed again during the Korean War (1950-1953) and rebuilt in 1957.
- 白日(백일) – Literally “white sun” or “white day.” Refers to the middle of the day (대낮).
- 中原(중원) – Literally “middle plains.” Refers to continental China.
- 赤兎(적토) – Refers to the Red Hare, a legendary horse owned by Chinese warlord Lü Bu (呂布, 여포, Yeo Po, ?-198). Some of the Red Hare’s abilities are recorded in the Book of the Later Han (後漢書, 후한서):
布常御良馬, 號曰赤兎, 能馳城飛塹
포상어량마, 호왈적토, 능치성비참
Lü Bu always liked riding [this] horse. [Its] name was the “Red Hare.” [It] could charge castle [walls] and fly over puddles.
- 시인 이단전｜“그래, 나는 종놈이다” 외친 천재문인 (Korean translation and biography)