Yi Jehyeon – Partridges in the Sky: Drinking Barley Ale

Goryeo Baekjawan

White porcelain cup dating back to Goryeo period (Source)

Yi Jehyeon (李齊賢, 이제현, 1287-1367) was a civil bureaucrat of the Goryeo dynasty (高麗, 고려, 918-1392) and the Mongol Yuan dynasty (元, 원, 1271-1368), Neo-Confucian scholar, poet, and painter. He was of the Gyeongju Yi Clan (慶州李氏, 경주이씨); his courtesy name (字, 자) was Jungsa (仲思, 중사); his pen name (號, 호) was Ikjae (益齋, 익재) and Yeokong (櫟翁, 역옹); and his posthumous name (諡, 시) was Munchung (文忠, 문충). He was recognized for his abilities from a young age. In 1301 at the age of 14, Yi Jehyeon passed the Goryeo civil service examination in first place for entering the National Academy (國子監, 국자감), and was promoted quickly through the ranks. In 1314, he traveled to the Yuan capital of Dadu (大都, 대도) at the request of King Chungseon (忠宣王, 충선왕, 1275-1325, r. 1298, 1308-1313). The King spent most of his reign in Yuan capital as not only the King of Goryeo but also the Prince of Shenyang (瀋陽王, 심양왕) over the Korean and Liaodong Peninsulas. While in China, Yi Jehyeon passed the Yuan civil service examination and befriended several Chinese scholars and artisans. In 1320, when King Chunseong was banished to Tibet (吐蕃, 토번), Yi Jehyeon journeyed all the way to meet the King. This experience lead him to later begin a movement seeking to minimize Mongol interference in internal affairs and bring the Goryeo monarchs back to Goryeo. In 1324, Yi Jehyeon himself returned to Korea and continued serving in government. With the situation on the Korean court turning chaotic in 1339, he retired from public office to turn his efforts to his studies on Confucianism. But Yi Jehyeon returned to public office in 1344, proposing a series of reforms. As the Mongol Yuan dynasty waned, in 1356 he took the side of the anti-Yuan faction. Shortly thereafter, Yi Jehyeon retired again, this time permanently to devote to more studying and writing. When the Red Turbans (紅巾賊之亂, 홍건적의 난) invaded Korea in 1365, he answered the court’s call for assistance and escorted the King as he retreated from the capital. Yi Jehyeon passed away a few years later in 1367. 

In addition to his service in two governments, he was a renowned writer. Yi Jehyeon composed in all varieties of genres and poetic forms, even creating a new genre called “Minor Music Bureau poetry (小樂府, 소악부)” for translating vernacular Korean songs into Classical Chinese. He was also one of the most prolific composers of Lyric Poetry or Ci (詞, 사) from Goryeo. The poem below was written when Yi Jehyeon was in China. In the poem, most likely inebriated, he is enamored by “barley ale (麥酒, 맥주),” describing its taste and even brewing process in some detail. Though it has the same characters and might fall under a broad definition of the beverage, the “barley ale” mentioned in the poem is not the same as beer as it is known today. What Yi Jehyeon drank was probably similar to a rice ale known as Makgeolli (막걸리).

其法不篘不壓, 揷竹筒甕中, 座客以次就而吸之.
기법불추불압, 삽죽통옹중, 좌객이차취이흡지.

Its method does not involve using a straining basket or a press. Rather, a bamboo tube is inserted into a pottery jar, and seated guests would then proceed to draw from it.

傍置杯水, 量所飮多少, 挹注其中, 酒若不盡, 其味不渝.
방치배수, 량소음다소, 읍주기중, 주약불진, 기미불륜.

The cup of water is placed to the side, and the amount each would like to drink is poured therein. If the ale is not depleted, its flavor does not change.

鷓鴣天 자고천
飮麥酒 음맥주

To the Tune of Partridges in the Sky:
Drinking Barley Ale

未用眞珠滴夜風 미용진주적야풍 仄仄平平仄仄平(韻)
碧筩醇酎氣相通 벽통순주기상통 仄平平仄仄平平(韻)
舌頭金液疑初滿 설두금액의초만 仄平平仄平平仄
眼底黃雲陷欲空 안저황운함욕공 仄仄平平仄仄平(韻)

The pearl-like raindrops have not yet been spent on the night’s winds.
Within the jade-blue jar, rich ale and vigor are interconnected.
The golden liquid at the tip of my tongue, I doubted at first that it was full;
As the yellow clouds fall into the bottom of my eye, I wish to empty it.

Not • to use • true • pearl • water drop • night • wind
Blue • jar • thick ale • raw ale • energy • mutual • to pass
Tongue • end • golden • liquid • to doubt • initially • to fill
Eye • bottom • yellow • cloud • to fall • to intend • to empty

香不斷 향불단 平仄仄
味難窮 미난궁 仄平平(韻)
更添春露吸長虹 갱첨춘로흡장홍 仄平平仄仄平平(韻)
飮中妙訣人如問 음중묘결인여문 仄平仄仄平平仄
會得吹笙便可工 회득취생편가공 仄仄平平平仄平(韻)

Its fragrance unceasing;
Its flavor hardly expended.
Again, the added spring dew is slurped from the long rainbow.
Should another ask what is the wondrous secret to drinking, tell him:
If he can blow a reed-pipe, he will soon master it well.

Fragrance • not • to cut
Taste • difficult • to consume
Again • to add • spring • dew • to slurp • long • rainbow
To drink • amid • marvelous • secret • person • if • to inquire
To be able • to obtain • to below • reed instrument • soon • to be able • to master

Notes:

  • This poem follows the tune Partridges in the Sky (Zhegu Tian). Its rubric has two verses and is fifty-five characters in total (雙調五十五字). The former verse has four lines with three plain tones (前段四句三平韻). The latter verse has five lines with three plain tones (後段五句三平韻). The plain tone rime used throughout the poem is 東(동). As described in the Imperial Compilation of Lyric Poetry Rubrics (欽定詞譜, 흠정사보):

雙調五十五字, 前段四句三平韻, 後段五句三平韻
OOOOOO平(韻) O平O仄仄平平(韻) O平O仄O平仄 O仄平平O仄平(韻)
OO仄 仄平平(韻) O平O仄仄平平(韻) O平O仄平平仄 O仄平平O仄平(韻)

Sources:

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