Wu Weiye – A Spontaneous Sigh

Wu Weiye (吳偉業, 오위업, 1609-1671) was a literati bureaucrat, poet, and painter. He was born in Taichang (太倉, 태창) in Jiangsu Province (江蘇省, 강소성); his courtesy name (字, 자) was Jungong (駿公, 준공); and his pen name (號, 호) was Meicun (梅村, 매촌). He passed the civil examination at the young age of 22 in 1631, and took various positions including Hanlin Academy Compiler (翰林院編修, 한림원편수) and East Palace Reader-in-Waiting (東宮侍讀, 동궁시독). When the Ming dynasty capitulated to the Manchus, he decided to retire from government office and returned to his home village. In 1653, however, Qing dynasty Emperor Shunzhi (順治, 순치, 1638-1661, r. 1644-1661) called him back into office in Beijing (北京, 북경), and Wu Weiye served as the Chancellor for the Directorate of Education (國子監祭酒, 국자감좨주). Two years later, when Wu Weiye’s mother passed away, he again decided to retire from office and spent the rest of his life back in his home village. He was well regarded for his poetry, and is considered one of the Three Masters of Jingzou (江左三大家, 강좌삼대가). He advocated for following the style of Tang dynasty poetry (宗唐派, 종당파). Many of Wu Weiye’s poems express his regret of serving the Qing dynasty government, and capture the dilemma of other Chinese intellectuals who were in a similar position as he was.

自嘆 자탄

A Spontaneous Sigh

誤盡平生是一官 오진평생시일관
棄家容易變名難 기가용이변명난
松筠敢壓風霜苦 송윤감압풍상고
魚鳥猶思天地寬 어조유사천지관
鼓枻有心逃甫里 고예유심도보리
推車何事出長干 추거하사출장간
旁人休笑陶弘景 방인휴소도홍경
神武當年早挂冠 신무당년조괘관

The only mistake in all my life was one government post.
Discarding my home was easy, but changing my name is difficult.
How dare the pines and bamboos stifle the agony of the wind frosts?
The fish and birds still think about latitude of heaven and earth.
Striking the oars, I have a heart that wishes to escape to Puli (甫里, 보리);
Pulling a cart, for what reason do I leave Changgan (長干, 장간)?
The people next to me casually laugh at Tao Hongjin (陶弘景, 도홍경, 456-536).
Upon Shenwu Gate (神武門, 신무문), earlier this year I hung my headwear.


Mistake • only • whole • life • to be • one • government post
To throw away • home • easy • easy • to change • name • hard
Pine tree • bamboo tree • to dare • to press • wind • frost • pain
Fish • bird • still • to think • heaven • earth • breadth
To drum • oars • to have • heart • to flee • geographic name • village
To pull • cart • what • affair • to leave • geographic name • geographic name
Adjacent • people • to respite • to laugh • name • name • name
Divine • arms • this very • year • earlier • to hang • hat


  • Heptasyllabic regulated poem (七言律詩, 칠언율시). Riming character (韻, 운) is 寒(한).
  • 易(이) –  Pronounced 이, when read as “to be easy” (쉽다). Pronounced 역, when read as “to alter” (바꾸다) or “to exchange” (교환하다). It can be deduced that the character should be pronounced 이 in this case from the character 容(용) that precedes it. 容易–(용이하다) meaning “to be easy” is still a word used in modern Korean. Another way to deduce the proper pronunciation is from the contrast with the word 難(난) that appears few characters later.
  • 鼓枻(고예) – Refers to banging on the oars or the side of the ship to match rhythm.
  • 甫里(보리) – Refers to Luzhi Town (甪直鎮, 녹직진) near Suzhou (蘇州, 소주) in Jiangsu Province. It is where late Tang dynasty poet Lu Guimeng (陸龜蒙, 육구몽, ?-881) retired and spent the remainder of his life, devoting himself to improving agricultural techniques. He earned the nickname Master Puli (甫里先生, 보리선생).
  • 長干(장간) – Refers to an area south of the Gate of China (中華門, 중화문), a gate on the southern wall of Nanjing (南京, 남경). Wu Weiye is alluding to his departure from Nanjing for Beijing.
  • 陶弘景(도홍경) – A scholar and ascetic that lived during the Southern and Northern Dynasties period (南北朝, 남북조, 420-589). He was well versed Confucian, Buddhist, and Daoist philosophy. Tao Hongjin served as Left Palace Guard Center-General (左衛殿中將軍, 좌위전중장군) for the Southern Qi dynasty (南齊, 남제, 479-502). Sometime later, he left his post, leaving his headgear at Shenwu Gate, to live in the mountains. Emperor Wu (梁武帝, 양무제, 464-549, r. 502-549) of the Liang Dynasty (梁, 양, 502-557) called Tao Hongjin back to office, but his invitation was refused. Regardless, whenever there was a serious matter, the Emperor would send an inquiry to him. For this reason, Tao Hongjin was called the “Minister in the Mountains” (山中宰相, 산중재상). 
  • 神武門(신무문) – Old name for the western gate of Nanjing.
  • 挂冠(괘관) – Literally, “to hang headgear.” Refers to retiring from office.

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