Chong Ch'ol

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Contents

Introduction

To One in Power

To One out of Power

Warning to Politicians 

Confusion in Government

I’ll Shine My Light on My Love

Thoughts of Him Keep Me Awake 

What Matter if the Snow Flowers Melt?

Aftermath

Inconstancy

Endurance

Parting

Music Inspires

Natural Music

To be Born a Woman

Raindrops

Clouds

Rustic Clothes

Cooperation

Seize the Day

Sources

 

 

 

Introduction

 

The poet Chong Ch’ol (1536-1593 CE) was born in Korea. He became an administrator whose career was affected by his unwavering sense of what was right combined with a proclivity to become involved in political disputes.  This combination frequently led to removal (sometimes announced as retirement) from public office, usually coupled with banishment to exile in the countryside.

 

Chong Ch’ol mastered of two classical forms of Korean poetry—the kasa and the sijo. Examples of the latter are given here. The kasa is the longer for the two forms and often deals with philosophical concerns. The sijo, a short popular song, appeared early in the Korean Joseon Dynasty*, and was often used for brief lyrical expression. It appeared at about the time of the invention of the Korean alphabet, Hangul, in 1444, which gave Korean writers the means of recording their work in their own language rather than in Chinese. In its structure, the  sijo can be regarded either as a poem of six short lines or as one of three long lines that each have a pause in the middle.  It is usually longer than the Japanese haiku.

 

The extracts from the songs of Chong Ch’ol given here reflect his career, in that they can be divided into two categories. The first seven are songs of politics and loyalty, which relate to his experience as an administrator. The remainder deal with the countryside, the good life, retirement, and mortality. All rely heavily on allusion rather than direct expression. The reference to the pine tree in the first sijo is a metaphor for someone in a prominent political position (as a similar reference to a tree is in the Iroquois Constitution of Dekanawidah). The second alludes to politicians who have fallen from favor. In the third, the metaphor changes to a boat (as in ‘all boats rise with the tide’ —except the leaky ones, of course). The fourth sijo is probably an allegory for the government confusion and preoccupation with petty matters when when threatened with invasion by Japan. The three songs of loyalty that follow might also, perhaps, be read as love songs. Poets do tend to be rather ambiguous.

 

Chong Ch’ol died shortly after the Japanese invasion occurred.

 

 

* Also referred to as the Choson Dynasty

 

 

1    To One in Power

 

Pine-tree rising beside the road,

                what is it makes you stand there?

Relax for a little while

                and stand down into the ditch:

Every rope-girded peasant that carries an axe

                will want to cut you down.

 

 

2    To One out of Power

 

The tree is diseased:

                no one rests in its pavilion.

When it stood tall and verdant

                no one passed it by.

But the leaves have fallen, the boughs are broken,

                not even birds perch there now

 

 

3    Warning to Politicians

 

Did I hear those boats have gone

                that late were bobbing in the waves?

As soon as the clouds gathered

                were they forced to disappear?

All of you whose boats are leaky

                heed the warning and take care.

 

 

4    Confusion in Government

 

What happens if you pull down

                beams and supports?

A host of opinions greet

                the leaning skeleton house.

Carpenters with ruler and ink

                keep milling around.

 

 

5    I’ll Shine My Light upon My Love

 

I’ll cut my heart

                to form a moon

and hang it brightly

                in a far corner of the sky.

Then I’ll go to my love

                and shine my light upon him.

 

 

6    Thoughts of Him Keep Me Awake

 

Paulownia leaves are falling,

                so I know that autumn has come.

Fine rain on the clear stream

                makes the night air fresh and cool.

But my lord is a thousand leagues away

                and thoughts of him keep me awake.

 

 

7    What Matter if the Snow Flowers Melt?

 

Snow has fallen on the pine-woods,

                and every bough has blossomed.

I should like to pluck a branch

                and send it to where my lord is.

After he has looked at it,

                what matter if the snow-flowers melt?

 

 

8    Aftermath

 

The boys have gone to dig bracken,

                the bamboo grove is empty now.

Who will tidy up

                the scattered chessmen and board?

Drunken I lie on a pine tree root,

                and don't know whether day has dawned.

 

 

9    Inconstancy

 

Ten years have passed since I last saw

                the white jade cup in the Office of Books.

Its pale, clear color

                stays exactly as it was before.

How is it that a man's heart

                changes from morning to night?

 

 

10    Endurance

 

Let's strain off raw rice wine

                and drink till our lips are shrunk;

Let's simmer our bitter herbs

                and chew them till they taste sweet,

Walk on till our thick studded clogs

                are worn to their wooden soles.

 

 

11    Parting

 

Two stone buddhas by the roadside

                face each other, naked and unfed.

In wind, rain, snow and frosts

                they sit there unprotected.

Yet they know nothing of mankind's partings:

                and just for that I envy them.

 

 

12     Music Inspires

 

The Great String of the Black Lute quavers

                and my heart is softly melted.

With martial pizzicato

                the Sage String inspires a strong will.

Here, there is no hint of sadness,

                so how can I think of parting?

 

 

13    Natural Music

 

The Great String of the Black Lute sounds

                as I move the goosefoot along,

Like water that was icebound

                bursting booming into the stream.

Now I hear raindrops falling on lotus leaves:

                are they trying to match this music?

________________________

Goosefoot: A movable bridge.

 

 

14   To Be Born a Woman

 

If you weep for your dead husband

                your tears will roll down both your breasts,

Your milk will be salty and then

                your baby will be fractious.

You poor thing! Why should anybody

                have to be born a woman?

 

 

15    Raindrops

 

Forty thousand bushels of bright beads

                have fallen on the lotus leaves.

The full leaves seem to measure them,

                but what will they do with them—

Spattering bouncing raindrops,

                exhilarating and joyous?

 

 

16    Clouds

 

A shadow is reflected in the water;

                a monk is crossing the bridge.

Monk, stay a moment;

                let me ask where you’re going?

Pointing with his stick at the clouds,

                the monk passes without a backward glance

 

 

17    Rustic Clothes

 

Milky rain-mist on the green hills,

                surely you won't deceive me?

Rain-cape of sedge and horsehair hat,

                surely you too won't deceive me?

Two days ago I put off my silken clothes.

                Now I've nothing that can be stained.

 

 

18    Cooperation

 

Day has broken once again.

                Let's take our hoes and get out to the fields.

If I get my fields all done,

                then I'll go and help with yours.

Coming home we can gather mulberry leaves

                for the silkworms.

 

 

19    Seize the Day

 

Let's drink a cup of wine! And then drink another!

                Let's pluck flowers and lay them out

                to count off our endless cups!

 

Once your body is dead

                it will be bound in a straw mat

                and carried away on a jiggy,

                or sway in a brilliant bier followed

                by thousands of mourners,

                but still it will go to the reeds and the rushes,

                the oaks and the willows,

                where the sun shines yellow

                and the moon shines white,

                where fine rain falls

                and snowflakes whirl in the wind:

                and then who will say, "Let's drink a cup!"?

    

Some monkey will come and chatter on your grave,

                and what use will regrets be then?

___________________________

Jiggy: carrying frame for the back.

 

 

Sources

 

1, 3, 6-15, 17-19    The Bamboo Grove, An Introduction to Sijo, edited and translated by Richard Rutt. University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, 1998. Copyright © The University of Michigan 1998.(Previously issued by The University of California Press, Berkeley, 1971.)

 

2, 4, 5, 16    Translated by Kevin O’Rourke, Professor of English, University of Seoul. Korean Insights Web Page.