Cho Ryeo – Hair Bathe Festival

Cho Ryeo (趙旅, 조려, 1420-1489) was a Chosun dynasty civil bureaucrat, who spent most of his life outside government. He was of the Ham’an Cho Clan (咸安趙氏, 함안조씨); his courtesy name (字, 자) was Ju’ong (翁, 주옹); his pen name (號, 호) was Eogye (漁溪, 어계); and his posthumous name (諡, 시) was Jeongjeol (貞節, 정절). In 1453, Cho Ryeo passed the civil service examination to enter Sungkyunkwan (成均館, 성균관), the national academy, where his intellect was widely recognized. But he soon left politics. Just two years later in 1455, Prince Suyang (首陽大君, 수양대군, 1417-1468) usurped the throne from his nephew King Danjong (端宗, 단종, 1441-1457, r. 1452-1455), taking the title King Sejo (世祖, 세조, r. 1455-1468). Cho Ryeo in protest retired from government to rusticate in his hometown of Ham’an (咸安, 함안) in South Gyeongsang Province (慶尙南道, 경상남도), west of Busan (釜山, 부산). There, he lived at the base of a nearby mountain and spent his time fishing, earning the pen name of Eogye (漁溪, 어계) (“fisherman’s brook”). In honor of Cho Ryeo, the mountain where he stayed was later renamed “Mount Baekyi” (伯夷山, 백이산) after the famous Zhou dynasty era Chinese nobleman Bo Yi (伯夷, 백이, ?-?), who also spent the remainder of his life as a hermit on a mountain after protesting the Zhou state’s (周, 주) invasion of his home state of Shang (商, 상). As he was not executed for protesting King Sejo’s usurpation of the throne by retiring from government, Cho Ryeo is known as one of the Six Surviving Ministers (生六臣, 생육신). This is contrast to the other six bureaucrats who suffered death for their protest known as the Six Martyred Ministers (死六臣, 사육신). For his merit, Cho Ryeo was posthumously raised to the high ranking position of Junior Minister of the Ministry of Personnel (吏曹參判, 이조참판) in 1698 and then to Senior Minister of the same ministry later on. 

During his seclusion from public life, Cho Ryeo spent his days not only fishing but also reading and composing poetry. In the poem below, Cho Ryeo describes the custom of Hair Bathe Festival (流頭節, 유두절 or 유둣날) while remarking on his own life. The name is an abbreviation of the phrase “Bathing the hair in the waters flowing east” (東流水頭沐浴, 동류수두목욕). The festival falls on the 15th day of the sixth month on the lunar calendar, which is July 30 this year. On this day, the traditional custom was to go to a stream or a waterfall to wash one’s hair to ward off the heat during the hottest period of year. Other customs included consuming food made out of wheat, millet, and beans and holding ancestral memorials (流頭薦新, 유두천신) using such food as offerings. The Hair Bathe Festival traces its origins back to the Shilla dynasty period (新羅, 신라, 57BC-935AD), and according to one source is the only traditional holiday unique to Korea — with the rest tracing back their origins to China. Today, however, outside of rural agricultural areas, the Hair Bathe Festival has been largely forgotten.

流頭 유두

Hair Bathe Festival

一帶長川抱隴頭 일대장천포롱두 仄仄平平仄仄平(韻)
好將塵髮俯淸流 호장진발부청류 仄平平仄仄平平(韻)
常懷事業偏多誤 상회사업편다오 平平仄仄平平仄
却恨光陰不少留 각한광음불소류 仄仄平平仄仄平(韻)
沐後彈冠心更淨 목후탄관심갱쟁 仄仄仄平平仄仄
醉餘揮筆興難收 취여휘필흥난수 仄平平仄仄平平(韻)
回看蕩蕩乾坤裏 회간탕탕건곤리 平平仄仄平平仄
物我俱新淡若秋 물아구신담약추 仄仄仄平仄仄平(韻)

Like a single belt, the long stream loops around the head of the hill.
Good it is to have dirty hair be bent into the clear flowing waters.
Always I have thought of my career and undertakings as mostly mistakes;
Yet I lament that my days and nights did not see even a few moments of respite.
After bathing, taking off my hat, my heart is once again cleansed;
Being intoxicated, waving around my brush, my desire can hardly be contained.
Turning, I observe within the fluttering and flittering heavens and earth:
Everything and myself, all renewed and cleansed of all emotion like autumn.


One • belt • long • stream • to surround • hill • head
Good • will • dirt • hair • to bend over • clear • flow
Always • to ponder • affair • work • to incline • many • mistakes
But • to resent • light • darkness • not • few • stop
To bathe • after • to pluck • hat • heart • again • to cleanse
Inebriated • to remain • to wave • brush • interests • difficult • to receive
To turn • to see • to flutter • to flutter • heaven • earth • inside
Material • I/me • all • new • fresh • to be like • autumn


  • Heptasyllabic regulated poem (七言律詩, 칠언율시). Riming character (韻, 운) is 尤(우). The poem complies with the rules of recent style poetry (近體詩, 근체시).
  • Korean translation available here (한국어 번역).
  1. riroriro said:

    _ 物我 would mean ” ( for ) e , things are …..
    _ 蕩蕩 would mean serene , at ease , …
    There’s a sentence from 論語 : 君子坦蕩蕩 ,….

    • riroriro said:

      _ errata : _ 物我 would mean = ” ( for ) me , things are ….

      • 歸源 said:

        1. I do not see where you get this. Again, explanations would help.
        2. Serene/at ease for 蕩蕩 is just one definition. I see eight alone on the online Korean dictionary.

  2. riroriro said:

    物我俱新淡若秋 = things ( for) me (are) new and fresh like autumn

    • 歸源 said:

      This is not an explanation, just a generic assertion. I was expecting some sort of statement backed up with an allusion or grammar, at the very least. If you are unsure of your own interpretations, please phrase it as a question. Otherwise, do not bother.

  3. I agree with Kuiwon. In the context of this poem, 蕩蕩 can have no connexion to the emotional state of a human being (as in the Analects passage), but instead fittingly describes the (watery) scene surrounding the poet. However, I think he means something by using this particular descriptive adverbial 蕩蕩 in conjunction with the phrase 乾坤 (Heaven and Earth). The Tang poet Du Fu 杜甫 used 乾坤 many times in his poems, and I think Cho Ryeo is here gently echoing the way Du Fu liked to use 乾坤. Looking around him, the poet suddenly realizes how vast and limitless (that’s how I understand 蕩蕩) are Heaven and Earth: his perspective shifts from the actual scene in front of his eyes and widens to take in the whole universe. (The sudden shift of perspective in the final couplet is also a classic signature of Du Fu’s regulated verse style.)

    As for 物我 in the final line, I’m with Kuiwon in reading it as meaning “everything in the universe”– the poet’s own self and every other living being besides himself (if we are in any doubt, the inclusive adverb 俱 clinches this reading). So, having suddenly had his (mind’s) eye opened to the universe around him, the poet awakens to his new state (of which he was previously unaware), that he, along with all other living beings, has been made new, and all are as peaceful as an autumn day. 淡 describes, I think, the kind of quiet and bland tranquiilty that lies beyond (or above) emotion, and so is kind of a surprise in a poem written at the very height of summer. Maybe we could translate 淡 in this particular context as “clean of all emotion” (to go with all the images of bathing, cleansing, washing, etc.)

    So the poet starts out with the physical act of coming to wash his hair on a hot summer day, but ends in a transcendent state where not only he, but the whole world, has become fresh and new. This is a really lovely poem. Thank you, KW!

    Another tiny note: In line 6, 興 is poetic inspiration, or the enthusiasm for writing poetry. Intoxicated, waving his brush, the poet cannot contain his burgeoning desire to write– the poem is simply welling up and flowing out of him (this is a sign that, as he cleanses away the “dust” 塵 of worldly ambition out of his hair, his mind/heart is becoming liberated).

    FYI: One famous example of Du Fu using 乾坤 as a central image in his regulated verse (五言律詩) is his 《登岳陽樓》:

    • 歸源 said:

      Great commentary — I wish I could say more — especially on the use of 蕩蕩 within the context of poem, especially in relation to 乾坤. (On another note, I should re-read some of Du Fu’s poetry: I have an anthology of Tang dynasty poetry I have yet to get through.) I will adjust my translations accordingly.

  4. riroriro said:

    I don’t know how expressions like 蕩蕩 are called , maybe 疊 語. Alone ,the character means one thing but repeated ,
    the expression , most of the time , changes radically of meaning
    One have such examples in 黃鶴樓 on 4th 悠悠 , 5th 歷歷 , 6th lines 萋萋

    • 歸源 said:

      They are called 連綿詞. (I believe I have explained this before.) One subset of them are 疊語, examples of which you cite.

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