Heptasyllabic Archaic Poem (七言古詩 칠언고시)

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). At the age of 21, in 1783, 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 more importantly 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). This changed with the start of the Shinyu Year Persecutions (辛難, 신유교난) in 1801, when Jeong Yakyong was arrested and banished for his associations with Catholics. 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). 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 poetry. By the age of 10, he had already amassed a collection of his own poetry. Jeong Yakyong’s style was somewhat unconventional in that he explicitly disliked the strict rules of recent style poetry (近體詩, 근체시) and preferred freer archaic style poetry (古體詩, 고체시). In one particular poem from his banishment, he remarked, “I am a man of Chosun / Gleefully writing Chosun poetry” (我是朝鮮人 甘作朝鮮詩 – 아시조선인 감작조선시). This line is surprising, because he brazenly ignores conventional tonal meter. (Also note that Hangul and Korean vernacular poetry written in Hangul had existed for well over three centuries when he wrote this line.) The poem below also does not conform to the strict rules of recent style poetry. In it, he describes farmers threshing barley. In Korea, the agricultural custom of threshing the barley (–打作, 보리타작) was traditionally associated with Grain in Ear Day (芒種, 망종). As a solar term, the day marks when the Sun is between the celestial longitudes of 75 to 90 degrees and falls around June 6-7 on the western Gregorian calendar every year. Barley has a long history in Korea, as the grain was introduced to the peninsula already domesticated from either China or Central Asia sometime during prehistoric times.

打麥行 타맥행

Threshing the Barley

新芻濁酒如湩白 신추탁주여동백
大碗麥飯高一尺 대완맥반고일척
飯罷取耞登場立 반파취가등장립
雙肩漆澤飜日赤 쌍견칠택번일적

The new hay and cloudy wine are milky white;
The large bowl is with barley feed one feet high.
Having finished their meal, they grab flails and go out to stand in the yard.
Twin shoulders, lacquered with sweat, overturn in the redness of the sun.

  • 濁酒(탁주) – Literally “cloudy alcohol.” Refers to an unrefined rice wine known as Makgeolli (막걸리).

呼邪作聲擧趾齊 호아작성거지제
須臾麥穗都狼藉 수유맥수도랑자
雜歌互答聲轉高 잡가호답성전고
但見屋角紛飛麥 단견옥각분비맥

Oh, alas! Making noise, their feet are in lockstep.
For a brief moment, barley ears are stacked all over the place.
Various tunes call and answer in antiphony, with their voices becoming gradually louder.
But only seen are the barley flying scattered about upon the corner of the ceiling.

  • 須臾(수유) – Binome word (連綿辭, 연면사) meaning “briefly.”
  • 狼藉(낭자) – Binome word meaning “to be messy.”

觀其氣色樂莫樂 관기기색락막락
了不以心爲形役 료불이심위형역
樂園樂郊不遠有 락원락교불원유
何苦去作風塵客 하고거작풍진객

Having observed their complexions, they cannot be any more joyous:
In the end, they do not regard their spirits to be servile to their bodies.
The paradisaical garden and paradisaical purlieu do not exist afar.
Oh, how I agonize over having left to become a traveler amid the windblown dust!

  • 樂莫樂(낙막락) – Literally, “joy unlike joy.” Refers to extreme joy.
  • 風塵客(풍진객) – Literally, “windblown dust’s guest.” The term “windblown dust” refers to the mundane world (俗世, 속세). The phrase as a whole refers to someone in bureaucracy.
  • Heptasyllabic archaic poem (七言古詩, 칠언고시) with no riming scheme. The poem has been broken into three parts for the purposes of presentation.
  • Korean translation available here.

Yang Wanli (楊萬里, 양만리, 1127-1206) was a Song dynasty (宋, 송, 960-1279) bureaucrat and poet. He was born in what is now Ji’an (安, 길안) in Jiangxi Province (江西省, 강서성); his courtesy name (字, 자) is Tingxiu (廷秀, 정수); and his pen name (號, 호) is Chengzhai (誠齋, 성재). Yang Wanli grew up during the Jurchen Jin invasions, one of many turbulent times in Chinese history. In 1154, he passed the civil service exam, and became appointed to various bureaucratic positions around China, the first in Lingling (零陵, 영릉). During the reign of Song Emperor Xiaozong (宋孝宗, 송 효종, 1127-1194, r. 1162-1189), Yang Wanli was promoted to various high ranking positions, such as the Imperial Academy (國監, 국자감), Head Scholar of the Ministry of Ceremonies (太士, 태상박사), and Reader-in-Waiting for the Heir Apparent (太讀, 태자시독). In 1187, however, for opposing the memorialization of a widely criticized minister named Lu Yihao (呂頤浩, 여이호, 1071-1139) at the royal shrine (廟祀, 묘사), Yang Wanli was banished from the capital and demoted to Administer of Yunzhou (州, 균주), which is in Jiangxi Province (江西省, 강서성). His status was restored and he was reappointed to the Imperial Academy, during the reign of Song Emperor Guangzong (宋光宗, 송 광종, 1147-1200, r. 1189-1194). Regardless, few years later, shortly after Song Emperor Ningzong (宋寧宗, 송 영종, 1168-1224, r. 1194-1224) took the throne, Yang Wanli offered a retirement request to the Emperor, who accepted it. The court called him back repeatedly from retirement, but he refused every time. Throughout his political career, even well after the signing of the Treaty of Shaoxing (紹興和議, 소흥화의) ending the Jin-Song conflict in 1142, Yang Wanli repeatedly submitted petitions (上疏, 상소) demanding the court send troops to reclaim territories lost to the Jurchen. He grew bitter over the fact that his call for action went unheard. 

In addition, Yang Wanli was a prolific Classical Chinese poet. During his appointments across China, he wrote a volume of poems about the regions he was stationed. In total, Yang Wanli wrote over 4,000 poems, just shy of the record set by his contemporary and friend, Lu You (陸游, 육유, 1125-1209). The following is from 1179, when Yang Wanli was appointed as the Superintendent of Guangdong (?) (廣東常平提學, 광동상평제학). He composed this poem as he was traveling from Quzhou (衢州, 구주) to Jiangshan (江山, 강산) during the fourth month of that year. In the poem, Yang Wanli captures the toil and labor of farmers planting rice in the countryside. Planting rice the usual agricultural practice from Grain Budding Day (小滿, 소만) to Grain in Ear Day (芒種, 망종). Both these days are solar terms and thus fall every year around May 21 and June 6 respectively. Rice farming has a long history in China, as rice (Oryza sativa) was first domesticated in southern China sometime between 8,000 to 13,000 years ago.

揷秧歌 삽앙가

Rice Planting Song

田夫抛秧田婦接 전부포앙전부접 平平平平平仄仄(韻)
小兒拔秧大兒揷 소아발앙대아삽 仄平仄平仄平仄(韻)
笠是兜鍪蓑是甲 립시두무사시갑 仄仄平平平仄仄(韻)
雨從頭上濕到胛 우종두상습도갑 仄仄平仄仄仄仄(韻)
唤渠朝餐歇半霎 환거조찬헐반삽 仄平平平仄仄仄(韻)
低頭折腰只不答 저두절요지불답 平平仄平仄仄仄(韻)
秧根未牢蒔未匝 앙근미뢰시미잡 平仄仄平平仄仄(韻)
照管鵝兒與雛鴨 조관아아여추압 仄仄平平仄平仄(韻)

The farm husbands throw the rice seedlings; the farm wives receive.
The smaller children pick the rice seedlings; the larger children plant.
Bamboo hats are like war helmets; straw raincoats like armor.
Rain waters flow from top of the head and soak down to the collar bone.
Those people, having been called to breakfast, respite for half a second.
Lowering their heads and bending their waists, they only do not answer.
Since the rice seedlings’ roots are not yet firm and the planted seedlings have not yet spread,
Take care of the young goslings and ducklings!


Rice paddy • husband • throw • seedlings • rice paddy • wife • treat
Small • children • pluck • seedlings • large • children • plant
Bamboo hat • to be • helmet • helmet • straw raincoat • to be • armor
Rain • from • head • top • soak • reach • collar bone
Call • that • morning • meal • respite • half • moment
Lower • head • bend • waist • only • not  • answer
Seedling • root • not yet • firm • seedling • not yet • go around
Inform • take care • geese • child • and • chick • duck


  • Heptasyllabic archaic poem (七言古詩, 칠언고시) with each line ending with an oblique tone rime (仄韻, 측운). The riming characters (韻, 운) are 合(합), 葉(엽), and 洽(흡), all entering tones (入聲, 입성) of -p (ㅂ). (Entering tones no longer exist in Mandarin Chinese.)
  • Korean translation available here.