Chosun Early Period (朝鮮前期 조선전기 1392-1506)


New Tales of the Golden Terrapin (金鰲新話, 금오신화) (Source)

Kim Shiseup (金時習, 김시습, 1435-1493) was a Chosun dynasty Confucian and Buddhist scholar. He was of the Gangreung Kim Clan (江陵金氏, 강릉김씨); his courtesy name (字, 자) was Yeolgyeong (悅卿, 열경); his pen name (號, 호) was Maeweoldang (梅月堂, 매월당) among many others; his dharma name (法名, 법명) was Seoljam (雪岑, 설잠); his posthumous name (諡, 시) was Cheonggan (淸簡, 청간). Born to a military family in Seoul, Kim Shiseup was immediately recognized as a child prodigy. He learned how to read at eight-months old and composed his first Classical Chinese poem at the age of three. (I suspect Kim Shiseup may have been a high-functioning autistic savant, as he suffered from stuttering all his life and was not very sociable.) News of his genius soon traveled around Seoul and reached the court. When Kim Shiseup was just five years old, King Sejong (世宗, 세종, 1397-1450, r. 1418-1450) invited him to the Royal Secretariat (承政院, 승정원) to write poetry. While the King did not personally meet him, he gave Kim Shiseup silk cloth as a gift. Because of this monumental event, he received the nickname “the five year old (五歲, 오세).” Others poking fun of him would later twist his nickname to “arrogant toward the world (傲世, 오세)” as a pun. In 1452, after the three-year mourning period for his mother, Kim Shiseup married a woman from another gentry family, but still feeling downcast decided to enter a Buddhist monastery to study Buddhism. While at the monastery, he heard news that Prince Suyang (首陽大君, 수양대군) had usurped the throne from his nephew King Danjong (端宗, 단종, 1441-1457, r. 1452-1455) to become King Sejo (世祖, 세조, 1417-1468, r. 1455-1468). He lamented the situation, and burned all his writings and books. Kim Shiseup then received tonsure and became a Buddhist monk. Since he survived King Sejo’s purges, he would later become known as one of the “Six Surviving Ministers (生六臣, 생육신).” For some number of years, Kim Shiseup traveled vagabond around the countryside, but eventually became a hermit on Mount Geumo (山, 금오산) near Gyeongju (慶州, 경주). In 1471, after King Sejo and his successor passed away, he decided to move to a mountain near the capital. Ten years later in 1481, Kim Shiseup gave up being a Buddhist monk (還俗, 환속) and married again. Soon after, however, when Lady Yoon (淑儀尹氏, 숙의 윤씨, 1455-1482) was dethroned for scratching the face of the monarch, Kim Shiseup again fled from the capital to wander around the countryside. He passed away in 1493 from illness with no children. 

Throughout his life, he was renowned for his poetry and writing. During his vagabond years on Mount Geumo from 1465 to 1471, Kim Shiseup wrote several works on Confucianism and Buddhism in an attempt to resolve the two, when the latter was deemed by many of his contemporary intellectuals as heterodox. It was also during this time period that he authored what is considered to be the first ever Korean novel, the New Tales of the Golden Terrapin (金鰲新話, 금오신화) . Written in Classical Chinese, this work is a collection of six stories, containing a mix of prose and poetry. Two of the poems in this novel are Lyric Poetry or Ci (詞, 사), one of which is from the first story in the novel, Playing Jeopo at the Temple of Ten-Thousand Fortunes (萬福寺摴蒲記, 만복사저포기). In this story, an old man named Yang (梁生, 양생), who lost his parents at an early age, laments his bachelor status. At a nearby Buddhist temple, Yang bets with Buddha to grant him a wife, throwing betting sticks used in the board-game Jeopo (摴蒲, 저포), and wins. The next day, a young woman shows up to the temple to supplicate for her parents that were killed in a raid by Japanese pirates (倭寇, 왜구). They both converse and welcome each other, and become husband and wife.

生雖疑怪, 談笑淸婉, 儀貌舒遲, 意必貴家處子, 踰墻而出, 亦不之疑也.
생수의괴, 담소청완, 의모서지, 의필귀가처자, 유장이출, 역불지의야.

Although Master [Yang] doubted and thought it was strange — [the young handmaiden’s] laughter was clear and elegant; her appearance as leisurely and composed –, he thought to himself that she must have come from a rich household, and stepped over a wall to escape. He then stopped doubting.

觴進, 命侍兒, 歌以侑之, 謂生曰: “兒定仍舊曲, 請自製一章以侑, 如何?”
상진, 명시아, 가이유지, 위생왈: “아정잉구곡, 청자제일장이유, 여하?”

With a chalice of wine put forward, he directed the handmaiden to sing to enliven [the aura]. Calling Master [Yang], she said, “This young one can only fit to old tunes. Please write one verse to suggest for enlivening [the aura]. Would you?”

生欣然應之曰: “諾.” 乃製滿江紅一闋, 命侍兒歌之, 曰:
생흔연응지왈: “락.” 내제만강홍일결, 명시아가지, 왈:

Master Yang was enthralled and responded, “Certainly!” He then wrote one verse of the tune Filling the River Red (滿江紅, 만강홍) and directed the young handmaiden to sing it:


To the Tune of Filling the River Red:
Sorrowful and Doleful, Chilly Spring

惻惻春寒 측측춘한 仄仄平平
羅衫薄 라삼박 平平仄
幾回腸斷 기회창단 仄平平仄(韻)
金鴨冷 금압랭 平仄仄
晩山凝黛 만산응대 仄平平仄
暮雲張繖 모운장산 仄平平仄(韻)
錦帳鴛衾無與伴 금장원금무여반 平仄平平平仄仄(韻)
寶釵半倒吹龍管 보채반도취룡관 仄平仄仄平平仄(韻)
可惜許 가석허 仄仄仄
光陰易跳丸 광음이도환 平平仄仄平
中情懣 중정만 平平仄(韻)

Sorrowful and doleful, the spring is chilly;
My silk jacket is thin.
How many times have I had my liver cut?
My golden duck-shaped burner grows cold;
Eventide mountains congeal as if eyebrow paint;
Dusk clouds open up as though an umbrella.
Upon silken curtains and feathered quilts, I have no companions to be together with:
The precious hairpin half-turned calls for the dragon-shaped pipe.
Oh, how pitiful this is!
Light and darkness easily bolt away as if a pellet.
My inner emotions remain dejected.

  • 腸斷(창단) – Literally, “to cut a liver.” Refers to heartbreak.
  • 金鴨(금압) – Literally, “metal duck” or “golden duck.” Refers to an incense burner in the shape of a duck.
  • 光陰(광음) – Literally “light and shadow.” Refers to time.

燈無焰 등무염 平平仄
銀屛短 은병단 平平仄(韻)
徒收淚 도수루 平平仄
誰從款 수종관 平平仄(韻)
喜今宵鄒律 희금소추률 仄平平平仄
一吹回暖 일취회난 仄平平仄(韻)
破我佳城千古恨 파아가성천고한 仄仄平平平仄仄(韻)
細歌金縷傾銀椀 세가금루경은완 仄平平仄平平仄(韻)
悔昔時 회석시 仄仄平
抱恨蹙眉兒 포한축미아 仄仄仄平平
眠孤館 면고관 平平仄(韻)

The lamp has no flame;
The silver folding-screen is short.
My lonely collected tears,
Who will follow and like?
Jovial, tonight’s Chu’s tunes (鄒律, 추률),
Once played, bring back the warmth,
And smash the resentments of the thousands of ancients in our beautiful town.
The delicate song, the Golden Silk-thread (金縷曲, 금루곡), overturns my silver bowl.
Regretting the times of the past,
I embrace resentment, with a worried frown.
And I slumber in my lonely room.


  • The poem follows the a variant of tune, Filling the River Red (Manjianghong). The variant is Spring Waters Connects with the Heavens (春水連天, 춘수연천). Its rubric has two verses of ninety three characters in total (雙調九十三字). The former verse has eight lines with five oblique tone rimes (前段八句五仄韻). The latter verse has ten lines with six oblique tone rimes (後段十句六仄韻). The oblique tone rime used throughout the poem is 旱(한). As described in the Imperial Compilation of Lyric Poetry Rubrics (欽定詞譜, 흠정사보):

雙調九十三字, 前段八句五仄韻, 後段十句六仄韻

平仄平平, 平平仄, 仄平平仄(韻), 平仄仄, 仄平平仄, 仄平平仄(韻), 仄仄平平平仄仄(韻), 仄平仄仄平平仄(韻), 仄仄平, 平仄仄平平, 平平仄(韻)

平平仄, 平平仄(韻), 平仄仄, 平平仄(韻), 仄平平平仄, 仄平平仄(韻), 平仄平平平仄仄(韻), 仄平平仄平平仄(韻), 仄仄平, 仄仄仄平平, 平平仄(韻)



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).

Seo Geojeong (徐居正, 서거정, 1420-1488) was a early Chosun dynasty period bureaucrat, diplomat, Neo-Confucian scholar, and poet. He was of the Dalseong Seo Clan (達城徐氏, 달성서씨); his courtesy name (字, 자) was Gangjung (剛中, 강중); his pen names (號, 호) were Sagajeong (亭, 사가정) and Jeongjeongjeong (亭亭, 정정정); and his posthumous name (諡, 시) was Munchung (文忠, 문충). At the age of 24 in 1444, Seo Geojeong passed the civil service examination (科擧, 과거), and rose through bureaucratic ranks. In 1451, he was made a At-Leisure Reader (賜暇讀書, 사가독서) and a member of the Hall of Worthies (集賢殿, 집현전). In 1460, he was made Envoy to the Ming Dynasty (謝恩使, 사은사) and traveled to China a number of times throughout his career. In the following year, Seo Geojeong was made Inspector General (大司憲, 대사헌). In 1464, he was appointed as Director of the Office of Royal Decrees (大提學, 대제학) and then two years after in 1466 progressed to Minister of Six Bureaus (六曹判書, 육조판서), one of the highest bureaucratic position in the government. In 1487, he was appointed as tutor to the crown prince, but passed away the following year.

Throughout this time, Seo Geojeong was a prolific compiler of Classical Chinese works. He participated in the compiling of various legal documents and histories, such as the Great Code of Managing the Country (經典, 경국대전), Comprehensive Mirror of the Eastern Kingdom (東鑑, 동국통감), A Geographical Survey of the Eastern Kingdom (東輿覽, 동국여지승람). Seo Geojeong put together a number of anthologies of Classical Chinese writings by Korean authors, such as the Poetry Discourses of the Eastern People (東人詩話, 동인시화), Anthology of Eastern Texts (東文選, 동문선), and Poetry and Prose of the Eastern People (東文, 동인시문). He arranged one of the earliest works of humor in Korean history in a publication titled the Comical Tales of Great Peace and Leisurely Chatter (太平閑話滑稽傳, 태평한화골계전). (Seo Geojeong also translated a number of Classical Chinese works into Korean using Hangul.) 

Furthermore, his own compositions were very well renowned. He is considered perhaps the best writer of the early Chosun dynasty period. One story has it that when Seo Geojeong met Ming officials in China, they were shocked by the high quality of his poems and invited him to compose poetry with them. Back home in Korea, his colleagues acclaimed his writings as equal in quality to that of the famous Tang dynasty poet Han Yu (韓愈, 한유, 768-824). In the poem below, Seo Geojeong describes the scenery of Seoul when returning home drunk from a friend’s place during Buddha’s Birthday (釋迦誕辰日, 석가탄신일 or 初八日, 초파일), and opines on Buddhism. The day traditionally falls on the eight day of the fourth month on the Lunar Calendar, which is May 25 on the Western Gregorian Calendar this year. The custom even today is to light lanterns, as he describes below.

四月八日, 友人家, 扶醉而歸.
사월팔일, 우인가, 부취이귀.

On the Fourth Month, Eighth Day, Returning Home from a Friend’s House, Inebriated and Slumped Over.

佛祖生辰四八日 불조생신사팔일 仄仄平平仄仄仄
都人發願千百燈 도인발원천백등 仄平仄仄平仄平 (韻)
明月梨花吾醉去 명월리화오취거 平仄平平平仄仄
人間妄想夢何曾 인간망상몽하증 平平仄仄仄平平 (韻)

The founder of Buddhism’s birthday is on the fourth month, eighth day.
People around the city send off their prayers with thousands and hundreds of lanterns.
The bright moon is like pear blossoms, as I leave in my inebriated state.
Why do mankind’s delusions and dreams overlap?


Buddha • progenitor • birth • day • four • eight • day
Capital • people • to send off • prayer • thousand • hundred • lantern
Bright • moon • pear • blossom • I  • drunk • to leave
People • among • absurd • to think • dreams • how • to overlap


  • Heptasyllabic truncated verse (七言絶句, 칠언절구) with the end of the second and fourth line riming (韻, 운) with the character 蒸(승). There is also an interesting progression in the tonal meter. It is as though the poet intended to write a recent style poem (近體詩, 근체시), but is so inebriated he falls short. The first couplet violates the rules of recent style poetry. In the first line, the last three characters are all oblique ones (下三仄, 하삼측). Furthermore, in the second line, the second and fifth characters are an isolated plain tone (孤平, 고평) and the second and sixth are not of the same tone (二四不同二六對, 이사부동이륙대). In contrast, the second couplet complies with the rules. Nevertheless between the two couplets, the adhesion rule (粘法, 점법) was not followed.
  • 扶醉(부취) – Literally “supporting a drunkard.” Here, it refers to being hauled by others to go back home.
  • 佛祖(불조) – Literally “founder of Buddhism.” Refers to Buddha.
  • Korean translation available here.

Full Moon

Jeong Dojeon (鄭道傳, 정도전, 1342-1398) was a literati bureaucrat and politician, best known for helping to establish the Chosun dynasty (朝鮮, 조선, 1392-1910) and laying down its foundations. (He was also recently popularized in a Korean period drama that I have yet to watch.) He was of the Bonghwa Jeong Clan (奉化鄭氏, 봉화정씨); his courtesy name (字, 자) was Jongji (宗之, 종지); his pen name (號, 호) was Sambong (三峰, 삼봉); and his posthumous name (諡, 시) was Munheon (文憲, 문헌). He was born to a gentry family, but his ancestors up till his father had held mostly low ranking bureaucratic positions. Jeong Dojeon together with his friend Jeong Mongju (鄭夢周, 정몽주, 1338-1392) studied Neo-Confucianism under the tutelage of the famous scholar Yi Saek (李穡, 이색, 1328-1396). At the age of 20 in 1362, he passed Goryeo’s civil examination and in 1370 was awarded a position at Sungkyunkwan (成均館, 성균관), the national education academy. As the Yuan dynasty (元, 원, 1271-1368) was falling, Jeong Dojeon advocated alliance with the newly formed Ming dynasty (明, 명, 1368-1644). For this stance, in 1375, he was exiled by the pro-Yuan faction on the Goryeo court. After being released in 1377, Jeong Dojeon met General Yi Seonggye (李成桂, 이성계, 1335-1408), who was then stationed in Hamheung (咸興, 함흥) fighting Jurchens (女眞, 여진) and fending off Japanese pirate raids (倭寇, 왜구). In 1388, General Yi was dispatched to attack Ming forces in Liaodong (遼東, 요동); however, when he arrived at Wihwado (威化島 , 위화도), an island on the Yalu River at the edge of Goryeo’s territory, he realized the futility of fighting the Ming and decided to turn back the army to take the capital. Jeong Dojeon would be later instrumental in helping Yi Seonggye overthrow the Goryeo dynasty and establish the Chosun dynasty. One of his legacies was moving Korea’s capital from Gaeseong (開城, 개성) to Hanyang (漢陽, 한양), what is now Seoul.

In the poem below, Jeong Dojeon describes his thoughts during the Mid Autumn Festival (中秋, 중추 or 仲秋, 중추), which is on the 15th day of the eighth month on the lunar calendar and is more often called Chuseok (秋夕, 추석) or Hangawi (한가위) in Korean. More specifically, he is thinking about his hometown. The widespread custom still to this day is for families to travel back to their hometown and meet at one member’s house to carry out ancestral rites (祭祀, 제사). Other customs include eating a rice cake known as Songpyeon (松-, 송편) and partaking in various folk games.

中秋歌 중추가

A Mid Autumn Festival Song

歲歲中秋月 세세중추월
今宵最可憐 금소최가련
一天風露寂 일천풍로적
萬里海山連 만리해산련
故國應同見 고국응동견
渾家想未眠 혼가상미면
誰知相憶意 수지상억의
兩地各茫然 량지각망연

Year after year, the mid autumn moon.
Tonight, it appears the most pitiful.
All of the heavens’ winds and dew are silent;
For ten thousand li, seas and mountains are connected.
The old country should have the same sight;
The entire household likely is not yet asleep.
Who will know the meaning of mutual longing?
The two places each are in a daze.

Year • year • mid • autumn • moon
Today • night • most • to be able • pitiful
One • heaven • wind • dew • silent
Ten thousand • li • sea • mountain • to connect
Old • country • surely • same • to see
Entire • house • likely • not yet • to sleep
Who • to know • mutual • longing • thought
Two • land • each • vast • grammar particle

  • Pentasyllabic regulated poem (五言律詩, 오언율시). Riming character (韻, 운) is 先(선). Note that 見(견) in the fifth line is an oblique tone (仄聲, 측성).
  • 故國(고국) – Literally “old country.” Refers to his hometown.
  • Korean translation available here.


Eo Mujeok (魚無迹/魚無跡/魚無赤, 어무적, ?-?) was a Chosun Dynasty poet that lived during the late 15th and early 16th centuries. He was of the Hamjong Eo Clan (咸從魚氏, 함종어씨); his courtesy name (字, 자) was Jambu (潛夫, 잠부); and his pen name (號, 호) was Nangseon (浪仙, 낭선). His father, Eo Hyoryang (魚孝良, 어효량, ?-?), was of the aristocratic Yangban (兩班, 양반) class and was a literati bureaucrat; however, his mother was a government maidservant slave (官婢, 관비) and the laws of that time dictated that Eo Mujeok be born into the slave caste (賤民, 천민). He received education from his father, eventually became a freeman (免賤, 면천), and served for some time in a low ranked bureaucratic post. In 1501, Eo Mujeok petitioned Prince Yeonsan (燕山君, 연산군, 1476-1506, r. 1494-1506) that he follow the Confucian ideals of governance and demanded that the monarch: straighten out the country’s foundations, foster Confucian scholars, prohibit female musicians and entertainers, ban alcohol, outlaw Buddhism, and stop the construction of forts. His petition was, however, dismissed without reply. Throughout his works, he frequently wrote about commoners’ plight as he too had an impoverished life. He was also so renowned for his poetry that his works were well known in Ming Dynasty China.

流民歎 유민탄

Lamentations of Vagrant People

蒼生難蒼生難 창생난창생난
年貧爾無食 년빈이무식
我有濟爾心 아유제이심
而無濟爾力 이무제이력

O, the hardships of the green lives! O, the hardships of the green lives!
Since the year has been poor, you all have no food.
I have the heart to help you,
But I have not the power to help you.

Green • lives • hardship • green • lives • hardship
Year • famine • you • to not have • food
I • to have • to aid • you • heart
But • to have not • to aid • you • strength

  • 蒼生(창생) – Literally “green lives.” Refers to “common people.”

蒼生苦蒼生苦 창생고창생고
天寒爾無衾 천한이무금
彼有濟爾力 피유제이력
而無濟爾心 이무제이심

O, the toils of the green lives! O, the toils of the green lives!
The weather is cold, but you all have no blankets.
They have the power to help you,
But they have not the heart to help you.

Green • lives • pain • green • lives • pain
Weather • cold • you • to have not • covers
They • to have • to aid • you • strength
But • to not have • to aid • you • heart

  • 彼(피) – “They.” Refers to those in power.

願回小人腹 원회소인복
暫爲君子慮 잠위군자려
暫借君子耳 잠차군자이
試聽小民語 시청소민어

I would like to turn the stomach of a mean person,
For a moment pursue the thoughts of an exemplary man;
For a moment borrow the ears of an exemplary man;
And attempt to listen the words of the mean people.

To want • to turn over • mean • person • stomach
Briefly • to pursue • exemplary • man • thoughts
Briefly • to borrow • exemplary • man • ears
To attempt • to hear • mean • people • words

  • 小人(소인) – “Mean person” or “base person.” Refers to someone lowly and vulgar, in contrast to the Confucian ideal of an exemplary person (君子, 군자).

小民有語君不知 소민유어군부지
今歲蒼生皆失所 금세창생개실소
北闕雖下憂民詔 북궐수하우민조
州縣傳看一虛紙 주현전간일허지

The mean people have things to say; but the King does not know.
This year, all the green lives have lost their places.
Although from the Northern Palace, they slip edicts worrying about the commoners,
In the counties and prefectures, they only see it as one empty paper.

Mean • people • to have • words • King • not • to know
Today • year • green • lives • all • to lose • places
Northern • palaces • although • to slip • to worry • people • edicts
Counties • prefectures • only • to see • one • empty • paper

  • 北闕(북궐) – Refers to the Gyeongbok Palace (景福宮, 경복궁), Changdeok Palace (昌德宮, 창덕궁), and Gyeongheui Palace (慶熙宮, 경희궁).
  • 州縣(주현) – Refers to the countryside, outside the capital.

特遣京官問民瘼 특견경관문민막
馹騎日馳三百里 일기일치삼백리
何暇面陳心內事 하가면진심내사

Even if a specially dispatched capital bureaucrat to inquire about the commoners’ complaints,
Rode a post horse and for one day galloped three hundred li (里, 리),
Our people have no strength to leave the confines of their doors;
With what free time can they face to give testimony about their heart’s inner affairs?

Specially • to dispatch • capital • bureaucrat • to ask • people • nuisance
Post horse • to ride • day • to gallop • three • hundred • li
Our • people • to not have • strength • to leave • door • limits
What • leisure • to face • to talk • heart • inner • affairs

  • 民瘼(민막) – Inconveniences to the general public.
  • 里(리) – Li is a unit measuring distance. 1 li is about 393 meters (0.24 miles). 300 li is about 118 km (73 miles).

縱使一郡一京官 종사일군일경관
京官無耳民無口 경관무이민무구
不如喚起汲淮陽 불여환기급회양
未死孑遺猶可救 미사혈유유가구

 Supposing if in one county there was one capital bureaucrat,
The capital bureaucrat has no ears and the people have no mouths;
They cannot call forth Geup Hoiyang (汲淮陽, 급회양),
And be able to save the not-quite dead lonely remnant people.

Even if • even if • one • county • one • capital • bureaucrat
Capital • bureaucrat • to not have • ears • people • to not have • mouths
To not • to be like • to call • forth • Surname • name • name
Not yet • dead • lonely • remaining • still • to be able • to save

  • 汲淮陽(급회양) – Refers to Ji An (汲黯, 급암, Geup Am, ?-112 BC). He was a near-legendary literati bureaucrat in charge of remonstrances and petitions to the Emperor (諫臣, 간신) during the reign of Emperor Wu (漢武帝, 한무제, Hanmuje, 156-87 BC, r. 141-87 BC) of Han Dynasty (漢, 한, Han, 206 BC-220 AD). His last bureaucratic position was as the Minister of Huaiyang (淮陽太守, 회양태수) and hence his name in the poem. To get a sense of how severely he remonstrated the Emperor and why Eo Mujeok looked up to him, here is a passage from the Record of the Grand Historian (史記, 사기) about the minister:

天子方招文學儒者, 上曰吾欲云云,
천자방초문학유자, 상왈오욕운운,

The Son of Heaven (Emperor) at that time invited literary scholars, and the Emperor said, “I want so and so.”

黯對曰: “陛下內多欲而外施仁義, 柰何欲效唐虞之治乎!”
암대와: “폐하내다욕이외시인의, 내하욕교당우지치호!”

Ji An replied, “Your Highness on the inside has many [selfish] desires but on the outside bestows benevolence and righteousness. How can you intend to emulate governance of Masters Taotang (陶唐氏, 도당씨, Dodangssi) and Youyu (有虞氏, 유우씨, Yu’ussi)!” 

    • 唐虞(당우) – Refers to Emperors Yao (堯, 요, Yo) and Shun (舜, 순, Sun) from the 23rd and 22nd centuries BC. They are considered the role model monarchs in Confucianism.

上黙然, 怒, 變色而罷朝. 公卿皆爲黯懼. 上退, 謂左右曰: “甚矣, 汲黯之戇也!”
상묵연, 노, 변색이파조. 공경개위암구. 상퇴, 위좌우왈: “심의, 급암지당야!”

The Emperor became silent, became angered, [his face] became discolored, and dismissed the court. All the high ministers viewed Ji An with fear. The Emperor left, called his left-and-right-hand attendants, and said, “That was severe, Ji An’s tactlessness!”


Byeon Gyeryang (卞季良, 변계량, 1369-1430) was a late Goryeo and early Chosun dynasty literati bureaucrat. He was of the Milyang Byeon Clan (密陽卞氏, 밀양변씨); his courtesy name (字, 자) was Geogyeong (巨卿, 거경); his pen name (號, 호) was Chunjeong (春亭, 춘정); and his posthumous name (諡, 시) was Munsuk (文肅, 문숙). He was a pupil of Yi Saek (李穡, 이색, 1328-1396) and Chung Mongju (鄭夢周, 정몽주, 1337-1392). Byeon Gyeryang passed the civil entrance exam (科擧, 과거) during the Goryeo dynasty, and advanced through various posts during the Goryeo and Chosun dynasties. He participated in revising the History of Goryeo (高麗史, 고려사), and was renowned for his poetry.

In the poem below, Byeon Gyeryang commemorates Winter Solstice, or Dongji (冬至, 동지). Winter Solstice starts when the Sun reaches the celestial longitude of 270 degrees. Since the day is a solar term, it falls around December 21 on the Gregorian calendar every year but shifts on the lunar calendar. It is also the day when the Sun appears the most south from the Northern Hemisphere and when the length of daylight is the shortest. One traditional Korean custom, as described by Byeon Gyeryang below, is to consume red bean porridge, or Patjuk (팥죽).

冬至 동지

Winter Solstice

繍紋添線管灰飛 수문첨선관회비
冬至家家作豆糜 동지가가작두미
欲識陽生何處是 욕식양생하처시
梅花一白動南枝 매화일백동남지

On my embroidered silk, I add lines of thread as the pipe’s ashes fly.
During the Winter Solstice, every home makes red bean porridge.
I would like to know at what place the Yang arises.
Among the plum tree’s blossoms, one is white swaying on the southern branch.


Embroidered • patterns • to add • line • pipe • ashes • to fly
Winter • solstice • house • house • to make • bean • porridge
To intend • to know • Yang • to be born • what • place • to be
Plum tree • blossom • one • white • to sway • south • branch


  • 管灰(관회) – Literally, “pipe’s ashes” or “flute’s ashes.” Refers to passing the day of the Winter Solstice. It was said that if one burned the membrane of a reed and then put the ashes in the pipe of a flute, during the Winter Solstice the ashes would fly away east. This is also an allusion to the Book of Jin (晉書, 진서, Jinseo), Chapter on Rhythm and Calendar (律歷, 율력, Yullyeok):

又葉時日於晷度, 效地氣于灰管, 故陰陽和則景至, 律氣應則灰飛.
우엽시일어구도, 교지기우회관, 고음양화즉경지, 률기응즉회비.

Again, the times and the days are counted on the sundial (晷度, 구도, “shadow measure”); the earth and the air are measured on the pipe’s ashes. Thus, when the Yin and Yang are in harmony, shadows are at their maximum; when the musical pitch and the air are compatible, the ashes [begin to] fly.

  • 欲識陽生何處是(욕식양생하처시) – Yin (陰, 음) is said to fall until the Winter Solstice when Yang (陽, 양) arises, as noted in the Book of Jin above.

Hunminjeongeum Summary

Today, Korea commemorates the King Sejong’s (世宗, 세종, 1397-1450, r. 1418-1450) promulgation of Hangul in 1446 through the publication of The Proper Sounds to Instruct the People, or Hunminjeongeum (訓民正音, 훈민정음). This blogger has been calling for moderation in Hangul pride, and will continue to do so in his posts on Hangul supremacy and exclusivity. He would also like to point out what is most neglected and under-appreciated today about Hangul: that is, that Hangul was an expression of Neo-Confucian (性理學, 성리학) metaphysics. Indeed, the Hunminjeongeum gives insight on how Korean Neo-Confucian scholars viewed phonology in the context of metaphysics. References to the Yin and Yang (陰陽, 음양, Eumyang) and the Five Elements (五行, 오행) are strewn throughout the Hunminjeongeum. Another interesting fact is that there are a total of five Classical Chinese poems, summarizing: (1) all the consonants and vowels; (2) the initial consonants; (3) the medial vowels; (4) the final consonants; and (5) how the initial consonant, medial vowel, and final consonant assemble to form a syllable. The following is from the first poem, which first starts out with Neo-Confucian metaphysics:

訓民正音 훈민정음

The Proper Sounds to Instruct the People

…訣曰: 결왈:

In Summary

天地之化本一氣 천지지화본일기
陰陽五行相始終 음양오행상시종
物於兩間有形聲 물어량간유형성
元本無二理數通 원본무이리수통
正音制字尙其象 정음제자상기상
因聲之厲每加劃 인성지려매가획

The work of heaven and earth was originally one Ki (氣, 기)
The Ying and Yang and Five Elements are mutually the start and the end.
All things between these two have form and sound.
Originally, they were not two and instead passed through logic and reason.
The proper sounds created letters still in their shapes.
Based on obstacles to sound, a stroke was added each time.


  Heaven • earth • possessive marker • change • originally • one • energy
Yin • yang • five • elements • mutually • start • end
Things • locative marker • two • spaces • to have • form • sound
Originally • originally • to have not • two • logic • reason • to pass
Proper • sound • to create • letters • still • their • shape
Because of • sound • possessive marker • obstacles • each time • to add • strokes


  • Five elements (五行, 오행) of Neo-Confucian metaphysics were: wood (木, 목), fire (火, 화), earth (土, 토), metal (金, 금), and water (水, 수).