King Seonjong of Goryeo – Adding Sounds to the Willow Tree Branches: Congratulating the Holy Court


Ruins of the former palace of the Goryeo dynasty in Gaesong (開城, 개성) in present day North Korea (Source)

King Seonjong (宣宗, 선종, 1049-1094, r. 1083-1094) was the thirteenth monarch of the Goryeo dynasty (高麗, 고려 918-1392). He was of the Gaesong Wang Clan (開城王氏, 개성왕씨); his original names (初名, 초명) were Jeung (蒸, 증) and Gi (祈, 기); his courtesy name (字, 자) was Gyecheon (繼天, 계천); his exalted name (諱, 휘) was Un (運, 운); and his posthumous title (諡, 시) was Sahyo (思孝, 사효). King Seonjong was the second son between King Munjong (文宗, 문종, 1019-1083, r. 1046-1083) and Queen Inye of Yi (仁睿太后李氏, 인예태후이씨, ?-1092), and the younger brother of Sunjong (順宗, 순종, 1047-1083, r. 1083) who died within two months of his ascension. His reign saw great stability and peace throughout the Goryeo realm. On the domestic front, King Seonjong greatly contributed to the further development of Buddhism. In 1084, he established service examinations for Buddhist monks (僧科, 승과). The King had his brother Euicheon (義天, 의천, 1055-1101) import Buddhist works from China. In commemoration of his mother’s death in 1089, he constructed a thirteen story tall golden pagoda on palace grounds, leading to some resentment among common people. On the diplomatic front, King Seonjong managed peaceful relations with the Jurchens (女眞, 여진), Khitan (契丹, 거란) Liao dynasty (遼, 요, 907-1125), and the Song dynasty (宋, 송, 960-1279). On a few occasions, the King dispatched emissaries to the Liao dynasty to negotiate the halting of operations of markets (榷場, 각장) monopolizing trade near the border, and sent troops to reinforce forts along the Yalu river. He also sent diplomats to the Song dynasty to learn and adopt Confucianism and the civil bureaucratic structure. King Seonjong became ill in 1092 and died two years later at the age of forty-five.

The King was recognized for his intelligence and comprehension of Chinese classics from an early age. He enjoyed composing poems, only a few of which still remain. One of these is the earliest surviving Lyric Poetry or Ci (詞, 사) by a Korean author. It has a definite year, month, and even day. The poem is also remarkably reflective of how cosmopolitan Classical Chinese was. King Seonjong wrote the poem for a Khitan envoy who was sent to attend the King’s birthday. In the poem, the King shows not only his gratitude but also his intent to maintain peace between the two formerly warring peoples.

己巳年 九月
기사년 구월

Ninth Month (1089)

乙亥, 遼遣永州管內觀察使楊璘來, 賀生辰.
을해, 료견영천관내관찰사양린래, 하생신.

On the Eulhae day (乙亥, 을해), a Liao dynasty Surveillance Commissioner of Yingzhou (永州管內觀察使, 영주관내관찰사), Yang Lin (楊璘, 양린), arrived to celebrate the King’s birthday.

  • 永州(영주) – Located in present day Inner Mongolia (内蒙古, 내몽고).

丁丑, 以天元節, 宴遼使于乾德殿, 王製:
정축, 이천원절, 연료사우건덕전, 왕제:

On the Jeongchuk day (丁丑, 정축), as it was the Feast of the Heavenly Origin (天元節, 천원절), the Liao dynasty commissioner was invited to a banquet at the Hall of Celestial Virtue (乾德殿, 건덕전). The King wrote:

  • 天元節(천원절) – Term used to refer to the birthday of a monarch during King Seonjong’s reign.

添聲楊柳枝 첨성양류지
賀聖朝詞 하성조사

To the Tune of Adding Sounds to the Willow Tree Branches:
Congratulating the Holy Court

露冷風高秋夜淸 로랭풍고추야청 仄仄平平平仄平(韻)
月華明 월화명 仄平平(韻)
披香殿裏欲三更 피향전리욕삼경 平平仄仄仄平平(韻)
沸歌聲 비가성 仄平平(韻)

The dew becomes cold, the winds high, and the autumn night clear.
The moon is splendidly bright.
All inside the Hall of Spread Fragrance (披香殿, 피향전) wish for the three strikes of the bell,
But it is teeming with the noise of singing.

Dew • cool • wind • high • autumn • night • clear
Moon • brilliant • bright
To spread • fragrance • hall • inside • to wish • three • again
To teem • songs • sounds

擾擾人生都似幻 요요인생도사환 仄仄平平平仄仄
莫貪榮 막탐영 仄平平(韻)
好將美醁滿金觥 호장미록만금굉 仄平仄仄仄平平(韻)
暢歡情 창환정 仄平平(韻)

Clamorous and boisterous, mankind’s life is all but a fantasy.
Therefore, do not covet glory.
Instead, enjoy the delectable ale filling the golden horn-chalice,
And be at ease in joviality and merriment!

Noisy • noisy • mankind • life • all • as if • fantasy
Do not • to covet • glory
To like • to intend • beautiful • wine • to fill • golden • horn cup
To be free • to be joyous • emotion


  • A Variant on Adding Sounds to the Willow Tree Branches (Tiansheng Yangliuzhi), titled Era of Great Peace (太平時, 태평시), has two verses of forty characters in total (雙調四十字). The former verse is four lines with four plain tone rimes (前段四句四平韻). The latter verse also is four lines but with three plain tone rimes (後段四句三平韻). The plain tone rime used throughout the poem is 庚(경). As described in the Imperial Compilation of Lyric Poetry Rubrics (欽定詞譜, 흠정사보):

又一體, 雙調四十字, 前段四句四平韻, 後段四句三平韻.
O仄平平O仄韻, 仄平韻, O平平仄仄平韻, 仄平韻
O仄O平平仄仄, 仄平韻, O平平仄仄平韻, 仄平韻


  1. (Now not-so) New Reader said:

    A foreword, my question is more-or-less offtopic, but maybe you will find it interesting enough to provide an answer: Given that you seem to know both hanja, hangul and classical chinese, mayhpas you will be able to answer my doubt: Is it correct that the hanja koreans use to signify the second person singular pronoun “you” is the alternate form “儞” instead of the standard both traditional and simplified “你”? Given that I do not know Korean, I cannot properly use search engines to find this answer myself, hence my bothering you.
    As always, you insight into the cross-cultural exchanges of these two nations remain fascinating.
    Anyhow, I hope you have a nice day.

    • 歸源 said:

      I am unaware of the use of 儞 in any Classical Chinese text by Korean authors. On the other hand, I have seen 你 in mid/late Chosun dynasty texts. It should be noted that Classical Chinese did not develop in a vacuum. Vernacular Chinese (白話體) influenced Classical Chinese works, even those by Korean writers. Some of Zhu Xi’s (朱熹, 주희, 1130-1200) highly influential commentaries on Confucian works are in vernacular. (I don’t know Mandarin, so it is somewhat frustrating when I come across his occasional vernacular commentaries.)

      The cultural exchange in this poem is indeed fascinating. It is between two sinicized, but non-Sinitic peoples, the Koreans and the Khitans. There are other Classical Chinese texts among Koreans, Japanese, and Vietnamese as well.

  2. Yufen Chang said:


    My name is Yufen Chang, and I am a Taiwanese researcher who is interested in pre-modern East Asia broadly defined. Since I don’t know Korean, your blog provides important sources about Korean culture, especially the classical Sino-Korean legacy.

    I’ve notice some trends re: hanja very fascinating, and I am hoping you will write a blog post to make sense of them. In your blog you talk quite often about the revival of hanja education and the nationalist reactions against hanja. That the demand for instituting hanja education seems to be corroborated with the founding of The World Association of Chinese Character Studies in Korea in recent years, On the other hand, however, I also came to notice that a novel titled Letter Wars was just published last year that claimed that hanja was in fact invented by Koreans. According to the Korea Times, the book was one of last year’s best-sellers:

    I find all these phenomenon fascinating, and I hope you will soon write something to educate an interested foreigner like me. Thank you so much!


    • 歸源 said:

      Thank you for writing to me. While I have not read the book, I am aware that there are a few nationalists that claim that Hanja was created by Koreans. Such proponents, however, are a exceedingly few in number. I do not know anyone personally that believes that claim. Most run-of-the-mill Korean nationalists (and several of my Korean friends and acquaintances) condemn Hanja and Sino-Korean as an undesirable foreign influence on Korean, and are under the impression that King Sejong created Hangul to replace Hanja.

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