Jeong Yakyong – Prelude to the Water Melodies: Longing for Home

Mount Baekbyeong (Source)

Mount Baekbyeong (白屛山, 백병산) in Gangweon Province (江原道, 강원도) (Source)

Jeong Yakyong (丁若鏞, 정약용, 1762-1836) was a late Chosun dynasty philosopher, bureaucrat, poet, and civil engineer. He was of the Naju Jeong Clan (羅州丁氏, 나주정씨); his courtesy names (字, 자) were Miyong (美鏞, 미용) and Songbo (甫, 송보); his pen names (號, 호) were Dasan (茶山, 다산), Sammi (三眉, 삼미), and Yeoyudang (與猶堂, 여유당), among several others; and his posthumous name (諡, 시) was Mundo (文度, 문도). He was born to a gentry family in Namyang (南楊, 남양) in Gyeonggi Province (京畿道, 경기도), just east of Seoul. In 1783 at the age of 21, Jeong Yakyong passed his first civil service examination. Thereafter, he continued his studies at the Sungkyunkwan (成均館, 성균관) and also rose through the bureaucratic ranks. Through his studies, he became introduced to Western Learning (西學, 서학), i.e., Catholicism, through fellow scholar Yi Byeok (李蘗, 이벽, 1754-1786). While there is no proof that Jeong Yakyong himself had ever converted, some of his close family members and friends were baptized into the Catholic Church. His associations with early Korean Catholics and with the Southerners’ Faction (南人派, 남인파) would later embroil him. Beginning in 1791, members of the rivaling Old Doctrines Faction (老論派, 노론파) started accusing him of being Catholic, an assertion that he repeatedly denied. For some time, however, Jeong Yakyong was still favored on the royal court. In 1792, for instance, already known for his knowledge of Western civil engineering techniques, he was asked to supervise the construction of Hwaseong (華城, 화성), a fortress in Suwon (水原, 수원). His fortunes changed with the Shinyu Year Persecutions (辛酉敎難, 신유교난) in 1801, when Jeong Yakyong was arrested and banished for his associations with Catholics. He was released in 1818, but remained out of politics and passed away in 1836 near Seoul. 

From an early age, Jeong Yakyong was recognized for his Classical Chinese composition. By the age of 10, he had already amassed a collection of his own poetry. During his banishment, he devoted himself to studying Confucian classics and started writing several notable works, including Remaining Thoughts on Managing the Nation (經世遺表, 경세유표) and Mind of Governing the People (牧民心書, 목민심서). It was also during this time that Jeong Yakyong wrote several Lyric Poetry or Ci (詞, 사).  The poem below was probably written when he was banished to Gangweon Province (江原道, 강원도). In it, Jeong Yakyong expresses his desire to return to his hometown.

水調歌頭 수조가두
思鄕 사향

To the Tune of Prelude to the Water Melodies:
Longing for Home

瀟洒粤溪水 소쇄월계수 平仄仄平仄
澹蕩白屛山 담탕백병산 仄仄仄平平(韻)
我家茅屋寄在 아가모옥기재 仄平平仄仄仄
煙靄杳茫間 연애묘망간 平仄仄平平(韻)
欲與雲鴻高擧 욕여운홍고거 仄仄平平平仄
怪有重巒疊嶂 괴유중만첩장 仄仄平平仄仄
不許爾同還 불허이동환 仄仄仄平平(韻)
一醉落花底 일취락화저 仄仄仄平仄
歸夢繞沙灣 귀몽요사만 平仄仄平平(韻)

Clear and pure are the waters of Weolgye (粤溪, 월계);
Placid and quiet is Mount Baekbyeong (白屛山, 백병산).
In my home, a thatched shack, I temporarily reside.
Amid the wide and expansive clouds and mist,
I would like to ascend on high with the geese of the clouds.
But strangely, there are arrayed peaks and layered cliffs,
Not permitting to return together with you.
Once inebriated, upon the bed of fallen leaves,
Dreams of returning home surround sandy bay.

  • 瀟洒(소쇄) – Alliterating binome (疊聲聯綿辭, 첩성연면사) meaning “to be clear and pure.”

釣魚子 조어자 仄平仄
塵網外 진망외 平仄仄
十分閒 십분한 仄平平(韻)
昔年何事 석년하사 仄平平仄
狂走漂泊抵衰顔 광주표박저쇠안 平仄平仄仄平平(韻)
風裏一團黃帽 풍리일단황모 平仄仄平平仄
雨外一尖靑蒻 우외일열청약 仄仄仄仄平仄
此個勝簪綸 차개승잠륜 仄仄仄平平(韻)
幾日湖亭上 기일호정상 仄仄平平仄
高枕看波瀾 고침간파란 平仄仄平平(韻)

The fishermen,
Outside the dusty world’s snare,
Are much at leisure.
In past years, for what reason,
Did they crazily run about and drift astray only to come to have senile appearances?
Within the winds, one round, yellow cap;
Exterior to the raindrops, one pointed, green reeded hat.
These items surpass hairpins and silk clothing.
For how many days, atop the lake’s pavilion,
Upon a tall pillow, will I be able to gaze the waves and billows?

  • 黃帽(황모) – Literally “yellow hat.” Refers to headgear worn by boatmen.


  • The poem follows the tune Prelude to the Water Melodies (Shuidiao Getou). It has two verses of ninety-five characters in total (雙調九十五字). The former verse has nine lines with four plain tone rimes (前段九句四平韻). The latter verse has ten lines with four plain tone rimes (後段十句四平韻). This poem employs near rimes (通韻, 통운). All riming characters, except one, rime with the character 刪(산). The third rime of the second verse 綸(륜) rimes with the character 眞(진). As described in the Imperial Compilation of Lyric Poetry Rubrics (欽定詞譜, 흠정사보):

雙調九十五字, 前段九句四平韻, 後段十句四平韻

OOOO仄 O仄仄平平(韻) O平平仄 OO平仄仄平平(韻) O仄O平O仄 O仄O平O仄 O仄仄平平(韻) OOO平仄 O仄仄平平(韻)

OOO OO仄 仄O平(韻) O平O仄 O仄O仄仄平平(韻) O仄O平O仄 O仄O平O仄 O仄仄平平(韻) O仄O平仄 O仄仄平平(韻)



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