Won Cheonseok (元天錫 원천석)


Mount Chiak (雉岳山, 치악산) in Gangweon Province (江原道, 강원도) (Source)

Won Cheonseok (元天錫, 원천석, 1330-?) was a Neo-Confucian scholar that lived during late Goryeo dynasty (高麗, 고려, 918-1392) and early Chosun dynasty (朝鮮, 조선, 1392-1897) periods. He was of the Weonju Won Clan (原州元氏, 원주원씨); his courtesy name (字, 자) was Jajeong (子正, 자정); and his pen name (號, 호) was Ungok (谷, 운곡). Recognized for his abilities from a young age, Won Cheonseok passed the Goryeo dynasty civil service examination. He, however, did not take any positions in government, realizing that the 400 year-old Goryeo dynasty was waning. When Yi Seonggye (李成桂, 이성계, 1335-1408) took power from the royal court, Won Cheonseok left the capital of Gaeseong (開城, 개성) and rusticated to Mount Chiak (雉岳山, 치악산) in present day Gangweon Province (江原道, 강원도). There, he built a farm that he worked himself, supported his parents, and wrote several works lamenting the downfall of the Goryeo dynasty. Sometime before his departure, Won Cheonseok was the tutor of Yi Bangwon (李芳遠, 이방원, 1367-1422), who would later become King Taejong of Chosun (太宗, 태종, r. 1400-1418), the third monarch of the Chosun dynasty. Because of this, after King Taejong ascended to the throne in 1400, the King requested Won Cheonseok to join his court several times, but each time he refused. When the King tried to personally visit him, Weon Cheonseok fled deep into the woods of the mountain. Unable to meet him, King Taejong instead went up to his house, and bestowed his grandmother a present and granted the position of county magistrate (현감, 縣監) to his son.

He continued writing histories and poems grieving over the fall of the Goryeo dynasty. While Won Cheonseok was renowned for his literary talents, because his writings often conflicted with the official histories, many were intentionally burned in later generations. Among Won Cheonseok’s surviving writings, however, are a few Lyric Poetry or Ci (詞, 사). The poem below was most likely written during his self-imposed exile on Mount Chiak. In it, Won Cheonseok reminiscences about his past close to the former royal court and despairs over his own current seclusion by likening his thoughts and feelings to that of a lonely traveler longing for his home village and in search for a place of belonging.

蝶戀花 접련화
處 처

To the Tune of the Butterfly Endearing the Flowers:
A Place

客裏應難爰得所 객리응난원득소 仄仄平平平仄仄(韻)
鄕思悽然 향사처연 平仄平平
夢繞秋蓮渚 몽요추련저 仄平平平仄(韻)
日暮長安愁幾許 일모장안수기허 仄仄平平平仄仄(韻)
羨他孤鳥高飛去 선타고조고비거 仄平平仄平平仄(韻)

To a sojourner, it is surely difficult to obtain a location.
Longing for the home village is wistful:
Dreams of walking around the autumn’s lotus by the riverbank
And of the sun setting upon the Jang’an (長安, 장안), how many times has he pondered?
He envies that lonely bird flying high in the air and away.

Traveler • within • should • to be difficult • henceforth • to obtain • place
Village • longing • despair • grammatical particle
To dream • to walk about • autumn • lotus flowers • riverbank
Sun • to set • long • peace • to worry over • how many • grammatical particle
To envy • that • lonely • bird • highly • to fly • to leave

  • 長安(장안) – Refers to Chang’an, which is present day Xi’an (西安, 서안) and served as the capital of many Chinese dynasties. Korean poets often used this term to refer to the capital.

我亦凉凉無伴侶 아역량량무반려 仄仄平平平仄仄(韻)
閒寂幽居 한적유거 平仄仄平
只有山禽語 지유산금어 仄仄平平仄(韻)
忽憶前遊多意緖 홀억전유다의서 仄仄平平平仄仄(韻)
悠悠往事尋無處 유유왕사심무처 平平仄仄平平仄(韻)

I too am alone and lonesome, with neither friends nor companions.
From my free and silent, remote abode,
All there is are the birds on the mountain chattering.
Suddenly, I reminisce about my prior journeys with many wound-up aims:
Far and distant, past events cannot be found in any place.

I • also • alone • alone • to not have • friends • companions
Leisure •  silence • seclusion • residence
Only • to have • mountain • birds • talking
Suddenly • to remember • previous • journeys • many • intentions • threaded
Far • far • to leave • affairs • to find • to not have • place

  • 意緖(의서) – Refers to complicated, multifaceted thoughts.
  • 悠悠(유유) – While the meaning of this word in modern Korean is largely limited to “to be at leisure,” here it refers to something that is very far away.


  • This poem follows the tune the Butterfly Endearing the Flowers (Dielianhua). Its rubric has two verses of sixty characters in total (雙調六十字). The former and latter verses each have five lines with four oblique tones (前後段各五句, 四仄韻). The oblique tone rime used throughout the poem is 語(어). As described in the Imperial Compilation of Lyric Poetry Rubrics (欽定詞譜, 흠정사보):

雙調六十字, 前後段各五句, 四仄韻
O仄O平平仄仄(韻) O仄平平 O仄平平仄(韻) O仄O平平仄仄(韻) O平O仄平平仄(韻)
O仄O平平仄仄(韻) O仄平平 O仄平平仄(韻) O仄O平平仄仄(韻) O平O仄平平仄(韻)