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李穡《蜂螫》 “Bee Sting” by Yi Saek (1328-1396)

小童逢毒螫, A kid suffered a venomous sting,

啼甚欲驚。 Cried endlessly, almost alarming the neighbours.

痛處俄還止, His pain stopped before long;

驕音尙帶。 [Yet] his vigorous voice [1] still betrayed a grudge.

世情多苦楚, The world is abundant in misery;

病骨足酸。 Sick bones [bring] plenty of wretchedness.

未識誰輕重, Unable to tell which is worse,

悠然一笑[2] [I,] easing up, smile anew. [3]

* From Yi Saek 李穡 (1328-1396) [4], Mogeun sigo 牧隱詩藁 (Mogeun jip 牧隱集 edition, digitalisation available at 17.27a-b (

[1] If we read jiao 驕 as the homophonous character jiao 嬌, an adjective more conventionally associated with children’s voices, this line would mean, “His tender voice still betrayed a grudge”.

[2] Red characters rhyme.

[3] This line may suggest that the poet renews his perspective on things with a smile.

[4] Yi Saek was a prominent Neo-Confucian scholar and writer towards the end of the Korean Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392). He studied at the Guozijian 國子監 (Imperial Academy) in China during the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368) and, after his return to the Korean Peninsula, played an important role in the education of several founders of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1897).

Album leaf by Ju Lian 居廉 (1828-1904)

Image credit: The Metropolitan Museum of Art


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