Born in Seoul, Yun Son-do achieved early success as a government official during the Yi dynasty, but his straightforward character made enemies at court and he was banished for imprudent criticism of those in power. Thirteen years later he returned to become tutor to the royal princes but was later banished again. He spent most of his 85 years in his rustic country home, contemplating the nature of life, teaching and writing poetry.
Yun is considered the greatest master in the history of Korean literature. His most famous composition is "The Fisherman's Calendar," a cycle of 40 sijo.
In both Chinese and Korean classical poetry, the fisherman symbolized a wise man who lives simply and naturally. In art, the fisherman appeared almost invariably in one of the most common genres of Asian water colors: sets of four paintings, one for each season of the year. Yun Son-do weaves both traditions into "The Fisherman's Calendar." It is the longest and most ambitious sijo cycle attempted during the classical period.
Adapting Korean Verse into English
Because of the drastic differences between languages, translators find literal translation of most Asian verse into English virtually impossible and unrewarding. Because of the nature of Hangeul, the official Korean script, that is more true of Korean verse than of most others. Translators, therefore, usually take one of two approaches: the MEANING track or the POETIC track.
Translators who follow the meaning track attempt to stay as close as possible to literal meaning and structure. Too often the result can be choppy verse that obscures the energy and force of the original and does the original poet little justice.
Translators who follow the poetic track attempt to recapture the thematic, poetic and aesthetic intent of the original. If they are successful, the verse in its new language may approach the powerful effect of the original, if not its precise language and structure. Since verses of this kind are the result of freer translation and a greater degree of variation from the original, the final result may be more profitably viewed as a new verse in its own right, or at least a derivation or adaptation rather than a translation.
In the verses below, I have tried to follow the poetic track. Since I make no claim to be a Translator, and since my knowledge of Korean is less than minimal, I prefer to call the results adaptations. However, I hope the English version does at least a small amount of justice to the original and to its author. At the very least, we will have been successful in introducing this fascinating poetic heritage to a new audience. This, ultimately, is more a labor of love and respect than of scholarship.
The Fisherman's Calendar
The Fisherman's Calendar is a sijo cycle consisting of 10 verses representing each of the four seasons, a total of 40. The innovative Yun transformed the pattern established by generations of previous writers of fisherman verses. The freshness of his language, his imaginative word usage and line structure, and the excellence of his craft set higher standards to which future writers could aspire.
One of his innovations involved adding a refrain after each verse's first two stichs to suggest the handling of a moving boat. The first refrain varies from verse to verse, but the second is always "Chigukch’ong, chigukch’ong, oshwa (or osawa)," an onomatopoetic phrase possibly meant to represent the dropping of the anchor or the rowing.
The refrains have not yet been included in every verse, but they will be as we complete work on the entire cycle. In the meantime, enjoy!
The Fisherman's Calendar
Sun lights up the hill behind, mist rises on the channel ahead.
Push the boat, push the boat! The night tide has gone out, the morning tide is coming in.
Chigukch’ong, chigukch’ong, oshwa! Untamed flowers along the shore reach out to the far village.
A new day warms itself, the bigger fish swim near the surface.
Pull the anchor, pull the anchor! In twos and threes the seagulls rise, then glide low and rise again.
Chigukch’ong, chigukch’ong, oshwa! The fishing rods are ready, where did we put the wine bottle?
From the east a sudden wind comes; it ripples the water’s surface.
Raise the sail, raise the sail: It is time to leave East Lake and try our luck in the West.
Chigukch’ong, chigukch’ong, oshwa! The nearby mountain soon passes and the far one comes closer.
Is that the call of the cuckoo? Is that new green the willow grove?
Work the oars, work the oars! Several huts in the far village shimmer at times through the mist.
Chigukch’ong, chigukch’ong, oshwa! Whole schools of fish come into view where water is deep and clear.
Pleasant sunlight smoothes the surface, the gentle waves glide like oil.
Row some more, row some more! Will my old net work well here, or should I rely on the rod?
Chigukch’ong, chigukch’ong, oshwa! Ch’u’s fisherman song comes to mind, I nearly forget the fish. *
*A famous song that concludes "The Fisherman," attributed to Chinese poet Ch'u Yuan (c.300 B.C.) The sun slides low to the west; it tells us its time to go home.
Strike the sail, strike the sail! Evening willows remain a joy, flowers more amazing still.
Chigukch’ong, chigukch’ong, oshwa! How many statesmen would envy this? Now why do I think of them?
I’d like to roam the tender grass, pick orchids and gromwells too.
Haul in the boat, haul in the boat! How many could I carry in this leaf-like little boat?
Chigukch’ong, chigukch’ong, oshwa! This morning I came out alone; the moon and I will go home.
Too much wine: I must have dozed; my boat drifts into rough water.
Make fast the lines, make fast the lines! Now peach petals float around us; maybe paradise is near.
Chigukch’ong, chigukch’ong, oshwa! Good! At least we’re far away from the dusty world of men.
I’ve put down the fishing rod to watch moonlight through the awning.
Drop anchor now, drop anchor now! Night is sneaking up on me: hear the cuckoo send out his call.
Chigukch’ong, chigukch’ong, oshwa! It brings me so much pleasure I can't recall my way back home.
Will tomorrow come again? How long before the spring sun rises?
Secure the boat, secure the boat! My fishing rod for a walking stick, I seek my brushwood gate.
Chigukch’ong, chigukch’ong, oshwa! And so it goes; so it goes; such days are a fisherman's life.
A lingering rain finally ends, the murky stream runs clear.
Push the boat, push the boat! My fishing rod on my shoulder, expectation floods me.
Chigukch’ong, chigukch’ong, oshwa! Who painted these rolling mountains in the misty river?
Wrap the rice in lotus leaves, we won’t need any other food.
Pull the anchor, pull the anchor! My bamboo hat on my head, where is my raincoat of green rushes?
Chigukch’ong, chigukch’ong, oshwa! Hey, carefree gull flying there, do you follow me or I you?
A gentle breeze puffs the duckweed; cool waves cross the awning.
Raise the sail, raise the sail! Summer winds can be erratic: let the boat go where it will.
Chigukch’ong, chigukch’ong, oshwa! North Bay is nice, or South Channel: what difference will it make?
Oh yes, the water is muddy, but I can still wash my feet.*
Work the oars, work the oars! I might row to Wu River and see its thousand years of rage.**
Chigukch’ong, chigukch’ong, oshwa! If I go to River Ch’u, I might catch a man-souled fish.***
Yun uses three historical allusions to comment on loyalty. * According to an ancient song of Ch'u yuan’s, if water is clear you can wash your hat strings in it; if it’s dirty, wash your feet. In other words, make the best of any situation. ** Fu Ch’ai, ruler of Wu, angered by a subject’s suicide, had the man’s body dug up, put in a sack, and thrown into the Wu River. *** Refers to Ch’u Yuan again and the idea that drowned men’s souls pass into fishes.
In the deep shade of a willow grove, mossy rocks blink at me.
Row some more, row some more! When the boat reaches that bridge, I won’t argue with the anglers.*
Chigukch’ong, chigukch’ong, oshwa! If the white-haired old man is there, we’ll let him pass through first.**
* the anglers would be contending for the best fishing spots. ** Emperor Shun (the white-haired old man) was highly regarded. When he went to Lei Lake, the anglers gave him the best spot out of respect. Wrapped in the joy of the day, I forget the sun is setting.
Strike the sail, strike the sail! Tapping out time on the mast, I try my voice on a boat song.
Chigukch’ong, chigukch’ong, oshwa! Singing words of the ancients, how much wisdom comes through?
Sunset shows all its colors, but twilight is coming fast.
Haul in the boat, haul in the boat! Around rocks and under pines the paths wander in and out.
Chigukch’ong, chigukch’ong, oshwa! Orioles sing on every side, hidden by leafy green.
While nets are drying on the sand, we’ll nap under the boat’s awning.
Make fast the lines, make fast the lines! Never mind mosquitoes; those pesky blowflies are much worse.
Chigukch’ong, chigukch’ong, oshwa! One worry is greater still: traitors may listen even here.
Who can foresee how wind and waves may act as the night goes by?
Drop anchor now, drop anchor now! Who was it said the tied boat may defy a strong current?
Chigukch’ong, chigukch’ong, oshwa! Dancing grass hides the river’s edge, going every way at once.
I welcome my snail-shell hut tucked away among white clouds.
Secure the boat, secure the boat! My hand fans the bulrush away as I climb the rock-strewn path.
Chigukch’ong, chigukch’ong, oshwa! You think a fisherman’s life is easy? Well, this is what I do.
A fisherman's life is idyllic, away from cares of the world.
Do not mock the old fisherman, you'll see him in every painting.
All seasons bring us pleasure, but autumn's outshines the rest.
When autumn arrives on the river, all the fish grow fatter.
We savor unnumbered hours swept along by gentle currents.
Man's dusty world fades away, doubling my joy with distance.
One lone pine by the water's edge, how can it stand so proudly?
Don't complain of gathering clouds, they block out the ugly world.
Don't find fault with roaring waves, they drown the dusty throng.
Fish have left shallow waters, perhaps moved to deeper pools.
Let's head for better fishing holes before the weather turns bad.
Even fat fish bite, say the ancients, if the bait is right.