Song Luo – The Peonies of Chosun

Song Luo (宋犖, 송락, 1634-1713) was a Qing dynasty (淸, 청, 1644-1912) bureaucrat, calligrapher, and poet. He was born in Shangqiu (丘, 상구) in Henan Province (河南省, 하남성); his courtesy name was Muzhong (牧仲, 목중); and his pen names (號, 호) were Mantang (漫堂, 만당), Xipi (西陂, 서파), Mianjinshan Ren (綿津山人, 면진산인), Xipi Laoren (西陂老人, 서파노인), and Xipi Fangyaweng (西陂放鴨翁, 서파방압옹). He was the son of Song Quan (宋權, 송권, 1598-1652), an official who served both the Ming and Qing dynasties. By his father’s recommendation to the court, Song Luo was able to attain a government position without having taken the civil service examination. He served various roles in the Qing dynasty government, including the Magistrate of Huangzhou (黃州通判, 황주통판), Inspector-General of Jiangsu (江蘇巡撫, 강소순무), Minister of Civil Service Affairs (吏部尚書, 이부상서), and Tutor to the Crown Prince (太子少師, 태자소사). From an early age, he is said to have enjoyed the classics and excelled at poetry. During his career, he composed poems with the top Chinese poets of his time and wrote critiques of Tang and Song dynasty poets. 

In the poem below, Song Luo writes about the “peonies of Chosun,” which do not refer to actual peonies but to a flower known as bleeding hearts (錦囊花, 금낭화 or 荷包牡丹) that are native to not only Korea but also Japan and northern China. He also alludes to the Grain Rain Day (穀雨, 곡우). As a solar term, the Grain Rain Day falls on April 20 or 21 every year and marks when the Sun is between the celestial longitude of 30 to 45 degrees. It is also supposed to mark the days that see the most rain in spring.

朝鮮牡丹 조선모란

The Peonies of Chosun

花葉羅羅旁檻披 화엽라라방람파
也從穀雨鬪芳姿 야종곡우투방자
沈香亭暖柯全改 침향정난가전개
鴨綠江空種乍移 압록강공종사리
苞奪臙肢明霽日 포탈연지명제일
穗分纓珞颺微颸 수분영락양미시
殷勤一剪濃春色 은근일전농춘색
會遣朝雲識此奇 회견조운식차기

The flowers and leaves vividly and distinctly open leaning against the rails.
From the Grain Rain Day, they boast their fragrant figure.
As the Shenxiang Pavilion (沈香亭, 침향정) becomes warm, the branches have completely changed;
With the Yalu River (鴨綠江, 압록강) emptied, the seeds are quickly dispersed.
Flower buds, surpassing rouge in brilliance, brighten the rain-cleared day;
Grain ears, separating into tassels, sway in the light breeze.
Attentively and cautiously, I cut one of these, intense with the colors of spring.
Chao Yun (朝雲, 조운, 1062-1095) must be made acquainted with this marvel.


Flowers • leaves • vivid • vivid • side • rails • to open
Grammatical particle • from • grain • rain • to compete • fragrant • form
To soak • fragrance • pavilion • warm • branch • entirely • to change
Duck • green • river • empty • seeds • quickly • to move
Buds • to lose • rouge • limbs • to brighten • rain-clear • day
Ears • to divide • string • jade • to sway • light • breeze
Quietly • subtly • once • cut • to become dense • spring • colors
Must • to make • morning • clouds • to know • this • new thing


  • Heptasyllabic regulated poem (七言律詩, 칠언율시). Riming character (韻, 운) is 支(기).
  • 沈香亭(침향정) – Refers to Shenxiang Pavilion, a pavilion that stood east of Xingqing Pond (興慶池, 흥경지) in the Tang dynasty royal palace during the reign of Emperor Xuanzong of Tang (唐宗, 당 현종, 685-762, r. 712-756). Several types of flowers were planted there.
  • 朝雲(조운) – Refers to a concubine of the Song dynasty poet Su Shi (蘇軾, 소식, 1037-1101).
  • Korean translation available here.
  1. riroriro said:

    羅羅 = sparse , fickle
    柯 = branch
    苞 = leaves , luxuriant bush
    奪 = snatch
    臙肢 ; maybe , there ‘s a mistake ; it should be 燕脂= make-up powder
    穗 = flower of cereals
    穗 分 = ??
    殷勤 = to treat friendly ; carefully
    會= reunion , moment
    遣= understand , give order ,distribute
    會遣= ???

    • 歸源 said:

      Read in context please. If did so, that should clear up the “??”

  2. riroriro said:

    纓珞 : maybe , there’s a mistake ; it should be 纓 珞 : jade collar
    穗 分 is somehow understandable in context
    _ but still don’t understand how to translate 會 to fit with context
    _ 奇 = odd ,oddity

  3. First of all, many thanks to Kuiwon for giving us yet another poem relating to seasoning progression to cheer us up in this exceptionally tardy spring. This is an especially cool post in that the poem he has chosen treats a conventional theme (flowers in springtime) in a most creative and unconventional manner.

    Here are my two cents’ worth:

    Line 3: …柯全改 “…the trunk has completely changed” (the Asian peony is a woody, not a herbaceous, plant, and when well grown really does have a trunk like a small tree). It is “completely changed” in the sense that it has been transfigured by the nurturing warmth of spring.

    Line 4: …種乍移 “…the seeds are quickly dispersed” (a rapid movement to contrast with the slow transformation in the preceding line)

    Line 5: 苞奪臙肢… ” ”The flower buds, rivaling/surpassing rouge in brilliance, brighten the day after rain” (reading 奪 in the sense of to snatch away the first prize; to outstrip or outpace). I agree with 豊臣 that 臙肢 makes better sense if read as a variant for 胭脂 or 燕脂.

    Line 6: 穗分纓珞… “The fully blown ears of grain separate into tassels swaying in the breeze” (I think 纓珞 is a conflation of 纓絡 and 瓔珞, which can be used interchangeably, in which case they mean the same as 纓穗, the tassel-like strings that make up a ripened ear of grain. This line is particularly well observed because when grain ripens, the individual ears, which are closed at first, open up into separate “tassels.” Here the poet is no doubt imagining a future prospect, because if it’s only Grain Rain Day, the harvest is still several months away. If so, this is especially neat, because the parallel couplet (5/6) is made up of two contrastive views, one the poet is looking at right now and one that he sees only in his mind’s eye.

    Line 7: 殷勤 Here, I think, “with loving care” (being attentive and cautious so as not to damage the delicate blooms)

    Line 8: Kuiwon is right. Compare the ending of 望岳 by 杜甫:會當凌絕頂, 一覽眾山小, where 會當 means “I will/must…” Here too 會, which signals both future tense and optative aspect, expresses the poet’s hope and longing.

    So, lines 7 and 8: 殷勤一剪濃春色 / 會遣朝雲識此奇 ” With the utmost care, I cut off a flowering sprig, intense with spring’s sensual colors, / I must send it to Chao Yun so that she too can know this marvel.” I’m guessing that Chao Yun (with whom Su Shi was able to share his love of poetry and art) stands for the poet’s own treasured concubine, who is not with him at the time (because he is away from home?).

    • riroriro said:

      _ 穗 = cereals blooms
      _ 分 = cut ? ; 奪 = pluck
      _ in translation , when the meaning is obscure , I would not try too hard to write a sentence with logical meaning ; I would favor terseness and avoid prepositions
      _ line 5 : flowers ( are ) plucked , ( ground into ) powder / day( is bright ) ( after ) rain stopped
      _ line 6 : blooms ( are ) cut ( plaited into ) jade collar / breeze with magic ( strong ) gusts

      • 歸源 said:

        Sure. Matter of choice.

  4. 識此奇: how about “to acquaint her with this marvel.” (A little old-fashioned, but grammatically closer to the original)

    • 歸源 said:

      Once again, thank you for your insightful commentary. It is much more than I could have read into. I agree with all of your comments, and have adopted them into the translation here.

      As for Chao Yun, I wish I had more to say, but I am not too familiar with the story/romance between her and Su Shi.

      I found this poem on a Korean blog post that had a series of poems by Chinese authors (ranging from Yuan to Qing periods).

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