Better known by his pen name T’oegye (Retirement by the
Yi Hwang has been called the greatest scholar and most
influential Neoconfucian philosopher of the Choson dynasty. After serving honorably at court and as president of the National
Academy, he retired to his country home in a scenic valley in Tosan in southeast Korea, where he taught philosophy and poetry.
Many of his students became famous in their own right. After Yi died, King Sonjo awarded him the posthumous position of Prime
commissioned a calligraphic sign saying Tosan School
which still hangs at the entrance to Yi's home. The Society of
T'oegye Studies is an academic organization with members all
over the world. His famous Twelve Songs of Tosan
cycle of poems celebrating the beauties of nature and examining
the essence of the human situation. The following verses are
from that cycle.
Some say I ought to live this way;
some say I ought to live that way.
Others call me a bumpkin,
a hayseed, a country hick.
Must I forsake my lifelong love
of nature’s rocks and ageless springs?
The old teacher never saw me;
he lived long before my time.
Though I may never meet him,
I can see the road he traveled.
With his wise road before me,
what reason for me to stray?
Gentle mist and haze caress my home;
wind and moon are my friends.
The land around is peaceful now,
and I count my final years.
Life, old mate, I hope to give you back
a true and shameless soul.
Fragrant orchids in the valley
lend enchantment to the air;
those puffy clouds over the mountain
are also delightful.
Amid pleasures such as these,
I still long for my dear one.*
*the Hanguel word nim used here might alternately
be interpreted as lover, lord, king, or god.