Yi Jehyeon (李齊賢 이제현)

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


  • 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)


Yi Jehyeon (李齊賢, 이제현, 1287-1367) was a late Goryeo dynasty (高麗, 고려, 918-1392) bureaucrat, Neo-Confucian scholar, and poet. 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 his posthumous name (諡, 시) was Munchung (文忠, 문충).

He was recognized for his abilities from a young age and advanced to the top of Goryeo dynasty bureaucracy. In 1301 at the age of 14, Yi Jehyeon passed the civil service examination for entering the National Academy (國子監, 국자감 or 成均館, 성균관) in first place, and promoted quickly through the bureaucratic ranks. In 1314, at the request of King Chungseon (忠宣王, 충선왕, 1275-1325, r. 1298, 1308-1313), who spent most of his reign in China, Yi Jehyeon traveled to the Yuan dynasty’s capital of Yenjing (京, 연경) to advance his studies at the Hall of Ten Thousand Volumes (萬堂, 만권당). While in China, he became acquainted with many Chinese scholars and traveled across the continent. In 1320, when King Chungseon was banished to Tibet (吐蕃, 토번), Yi Jehyeon traveled all the way to meet the King. He later plead to Mongol officials to release the King and worked to minimize Mongol interference in internal affairs. In 1324, he returned to Korea and continued serving in government. In 1339, however, with the chaotic situation on the Goryeo royal court, he decided to seclude himself away from politics to study and write a series of works, which would be compiled as the Scribbles of Old Man Oak (櫟翁稗說, 역옹패설). In 1344, Yi Jehyeon returned to public life and proposed reforms, emphasizing the Confucian tenets of “analyzing things and reaching knowledge” (格物致知, 격물치지) and “making the will sincere and rectifying the mind” (誠心, 성의정심). In 1356, as the Yuan dynasty was collapsing, he took the side of the pro-Ming faction. Shortly thereafter, however, Yi Jehyeon retired permanently from politics and spent the remainder of his life studying and composing a history of the Goryeo dynasty. He passed away in 1367, and is survived by members of the Ikjae-gong Branch (益齋公派, 익재공파) of the Gyeongju Yi Clan. 

He was also renowned for his Classical Chinese poetry, in particular, lyric poems (詞, 사) and music bureau poems (樂府, 악부) — though the poem here is neither form. Below is one of eight poems he wrote on various scenes in Gaeseong (開城, 개성), the capital of the Goryeo dynasty. In it, Yi Jehyeon writes about the Cleansing Drink Day (禊飮日, 계음일). This festival falls on the third day of the third month on the Lunar Calendar and falls on April 21 this year. It has several names, including First Rat Day (上巳日, 상사일), Field Outing Day (踏靑節, 답청절), Double Third Day (重三日, 중삼일), and Samjitnal (삼짇날). The festival traditionally marked the day swallows migrated and returned from the south. There are many customs associated with this festival. The custom alluded below is to bathe in a river and drink alcohol thereafter.

松都八詠 熊川禊飮 송도팔영 웅천계음

Eight Poems on Songdo – Cleansing Drinks at Ungcheon

沙頭酒盡欲斜暉 사두주진욕사휘
濯足淸流看鳥飛 탁족청류간조비
此意自佳誰領取 차의자가수령취
孔門吾與舞雩歸 공문오여무우귀

Atop the sandy banks, with my wine deplete, I wish that the sunshine inclines.
Washing my feet in the clear stream, I gaze at birds flying.
This meaning by itself is beautiful — Who shall receive it?
As a student of Confucius, I too dance upon the rain altar and return home.


Sand • head • wine • deplete • wish • aslant • shine
Wash • feet • clear • stream • to see • bird • to fly
This • intent • by itself • beautiful • who • to receive • to handle
Confucius • student • I • together • dance • rain • to return


  • Heptasyllabic truncated verse (七言絶句, 칠언절구). Riming character (韻, 운) is 微(미). Though the last character of the third line may appear to be a rime, 取(취) is a rising tone (上聲, 상성) character.
  • 松都(송도) – Literally, “pine tree capital.” Refers to Gaeseong. It is located just north of the North-South Korean border.
  • 熊川(웅천) – Refers to a stream near Gaeseong.
  • 孔門吾與舞雩歸(공문오여무우귀) – Allusion to Analects of Confucius (論語, 논어), Xianjin Chapter (先進, 선진). In the story, Confucius asks four of disciples what their wishes were. Three of the four replied that they wished to enter government service and manage a state. The fourth, remaining disciple, Zeng Xi (曾皙, 증석), replied that he wished to bathe in the waters of Yishou (沂水, 기수), enjoy the breeze upon the rain altar, and return home singing. Confucius, in response, commended him.

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