Early Korean Literature

Early Korean Literature: Selections and Introductions

David R. McCann
Copyright Date: 2000
Pages: 192
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/mcca11946
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  • Book Info
    Early Korean Literature
    Book Description:

    Preeminent scholar and translator David R. McCann presents an anthology of his own translations of works ranging across the major genres and authors of Korean writing -- stories, legends, poems, historical vignettes, and other works -- and a set of critical essays on major themes.

    A brief history of traditional Korean literature orients the reader to the historical context of the writings, thus bringing into focus this rich literary tradition. The anthology of translations begins with the Samguk sagi, or History of the Three Kingdoms, written in 1145, and ends with "The Story of Master Hô," written in the late 1700s. Three exploratory essays of particular subtlety and lucidity raise interpretive and comparative issues that provide a creative, sophisticated framework for approaching the selections.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-50574-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. PREFACE
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  4. A BRIEF HISTORY OF KOREAN LITERATURE TO THE NINETEENTH CENTURY
    (pp. 1-10)

    Prior to the twentieth century, Korean literature included works written in the Korean language and also, because of Korea’s close political and cultural association with China and the plain usefulness of the medium, in Chinese. Prior to the fifteenth-century promulgation of the Korean alphabet, Korean literary works were recorded either in Chinese translation or in various systems of Chinese characters used to represent the meanings, sounds, and grammatical markings of Korean. Writing in Chinese stopped once at the end of the nineteenth century with the abolition of the state examination system, which had been based upon mastery of Chinese materials,...

  5. PART 1: AN ANTHOLOGY OF KOREAN LITERATURE
    • THE SAMGUK SAGI (1145)
      (pp. 13-14)

      The Samguk sagi, History of the Three Kingdoms—Silla, Paekche, and Koguryŏ—was written at royal request by Kim Pu-sik (1075–1151). The sagi was modeled on the dynastic histories of China, which meant, among other things, that it was organized into sections such as history, biographies, and notable events; it tended to present the state officials as the principle actors; and, of course, it was written in literary Chinese, the same literary language as was used in China for such records.

      Kim Pu-sik enjoyed a high reputation as a government officer, historian, and writer. (One of his poems is...

    • THE SAMGUK YUSA (1285)
      (pp. 15-24)

      The Samguk yusa, Remnants of the Three Kingdoms, was compiled over a period of several years by the Buddhist monk Iryŏn (1206–1289). Quite deliberately assembled as a supplement to Kim Pu-sik’s Samguk sagi, the yusa draws together a wide assortment of myths, legends, genealogies, histories, Buddhist tales, observations by the compiler, and other materials. Of key significance among these, fourteen hyangga, native songs, are transcribed as Korean-language texts, using Chinese characters to convey meanings, sounds, and grammatical inflections, embedded in the literary Chinese narrative. In the following stories, “The Flower Offering Song” in “Suro,” Ch’ŏyong’s song, and Sŏdong’s in...

    • KORYŎ SONGS
      (pp. 25-28)

      Texts for “Would You Go?” and “Song of Green Mountains” are included in the sixteenth-century Akchang kasa, Akchang Texts. It has been pointed out that “Song of Green Mountains” can be read in at least two different ways: as the lament of people forced by hard times to scavenge for food, and as a cheerful song of upper-class enjoyment of the rustic life.

      “Would You Go?”, “Kasiri,” is a prototypical folk song of parting. It is seen as a thematic precursor to the well-known folk song “Arirang,” as well as the famous modern poem “Azaleas,” “Chindallaekkot,” by the poet sowŏl,...

    • HISTORY AS LITERATURE:: THE POLITICAL AND CULTURAL TRANSITION FROM KORYŎ TO CHOSŎN
      • [Introduction]
        (pp. 29-31)

        Late Koryŏ and early Chosŏn, the inglorious end of one dynasty and the brutal beginning of the next, as even the brief summary below, in Book 2 of the Koryoŏsa, suggests, was a fiercely contested period, historically and historiographically. The new rulers and especially the fourth king, Sejong, undertook many works to establish the foundations for a long-lasting dynasty. Legal reforms, re-siting the capital, development of agricultural technology, and a new alphabet were just a few of the elements in the program.

        This section contains three examples of the struggle over history and historical culture, chosen to illustrate this transition...

      • THE SIJO EXCHANGE BETWEEN YI PANG-WŎN AND CHŎNG MONG-JU
        (pp. 32-32)

        The following sijo exchange is said to have taken place between Yi Pang-wŏn (1367–1422), fifth son of Yi Sŏng-gye, founder of the Chosŏn Dynasty, and Chŏng Mong-ju (1337–1392), Koryŏ statesman and loyalist. (The numbers following the names are the entry numbers for these sijo texts in Ch’ŏng Pyŏng-uk’s Sijo munhak sajŏn. See the Notes for publication details.)

        Things go this way, like them or not;

        things go that way too.

        What if the vines on Mansu Mountain

        grow tangled and long? What of that?

        Let us unwind just like them

        and enjoy life a hundred years more.

        Yi...

      • THE KORYŎSA: THE HISTORY OF KORYŎ
        (pp. 33-40)

        In summer, the fourth month, in the twenty-sixth year of his reign, the king summoned Minister Pak Sul-hŭi and presented him with a set of injunctions, instructing him as follows.

        According to what I have heard, when Shun was cultivating the field at Yŏksan, he nevertheless inherited the kingdom from Yao; and although Emperor Ko Cho (Ko Tsu) was born in humble circumstances, he founded the empire. I too come from modest origins, a house quite without connections, and yet, with undeserved support for my leadership, neither avoiding the heat of summer nor shunning the cold of winter, dedicating mind...

      • SONG OF THE DRAGONS FLYING TO HEAVEN
        (pp. 41-46)
    • EARLY CHOSŎN (1392–1598)
      • Sijo
        (pp. 47-57)

        The sijo is a three-line, vernacular verse form originally composed and sung to a fixed melody. Sijo continue to be written in the twentieth century, but as literary rather than musical works.

        The usual sijo line comprises four rhythmic segments that correspond, in turn, to the grammatical divisions of the line. The segments generally vary between three and four syllables in length, but in line 3 the first segment is fixed at three syllables, the second at five or more, the third at four, and the last at three.

        As the following selection shows, the subject matter ranges from philosophy...

      • KASA
        (pp. 58-74)

        The kasa is the other major Korean vernacular verse form. It took the four-part line that also appears in the sijo to sometimes considerable lengths; travel kasa, records of journeys, could run on for hundreds of lines. Composition might be approached topically, by scenes, by stitching together brief lyric passages with longer narrative sections, or durchkomponiert, as it were, carrying a single story from beginning to end. The kasa form has been adapted to modern narrative poems and used by North Korean writers in socialist realist verse.

        Chŏng Kŭg-in’s “Song to Spring” is cited as the first example of the...

      • HANMUN: POEMS AND PROSE IN CHINESE
        (pp. 75-96)

        Perhaps the second most noteworthy feature of Korean literature written in literary Chinese is that it does not constitute a monolithic structure. The corpus of works in Chinese is various in form, philosophical underpinnings, and views on language, diction, the past, the proper subject, the purpose of the whole enterprise of writing. Yi Kyu-bo (1168–1241), for example, one of the most compelling figures in Korean letters, composed poems in literary Chinese that reflected the difficult life of farming during the extended period when the court was living in luxury on Kanghwa Island, safe from the depredations of the invading...

  6. PART 2: NEGOTIATIONS IN KOREAN LITERARY CULTURE
    • INTRODUCTION
      (pp. 99-100)

      The three essays that comprise the second section of this book are not, I should say at the outset, a chronological study, although they do take their texts in a sequence that runs from the thirteenth-century Samguk yusa up to the seventeenth-century “Fisherman’s Calendar” by Yun Sŏndo. Neither are they a study of causation, of progress or decline, nor of great works or great authors. If anything, they are about articulations of a literary culture.

      Several years ago, in a project focused on the struggles over authority and power reflected in a number of Korean literary texts, I made use...

    • CH’ŎYONG AND MANGHAE TEMPLE: A PARABLE OF LITERARY NEGOTIATION
      (pp. 101-122)

      Ch’ŏyong and Manghae Temple, one of the stories in the Koryŏ monk Iryŏn’s Samguk yusa, has attracted an astonishing number of scholars and other readers. As Cho Tong-il put it in a recent article, the story is like a mirror in which scholars seem to discover their own likenesses looking back at them.¹ I must confess to a twenty-year fascination with the story, which started with my reading of Ha Tae-hung’s translation.² Like many readers, I imagine, I was intrigued by the images in the Samguk yusa (SGYS) of Korea in the Three Kingdoms and Unified Silla periods, images made...

    • SONG OF THE DRAGONS FLYING TO HEAVEN: NEGOTIATING HISTORY
      (pp. 123-138)

      It is possible to give a concrete and detailed analysis of any utterance, once having exposed it as a contradiction-ridden, tension-filled entity of two embattled tendencies in the life of language.¹

      In the middle of the fifteenth century, the fourth king of the Choso sŏn dynasty, Sejong (1418–1450), ordered the composition of a song to praise and celebrate the founding of the new dynasty. Yongbi ŏch ’ŏn ka, Song of the Dragons Flying to Heaven, described the actions of the dynastic founder, Yi Sŏng-gye, reign name T’aejo (1392–1398); his son pang-wŏn, the third king (T’aejing, 1400–1418); and...

    • PERFORMANCE AND KOREAN SIJO VERSE: NEGOTIATING DIFFERENCE
      (pp. 139-158)

      We have observed, in the first and second chapters of this section, instances of displacement and the interpretive gaps that they initiate. In the story of Ch’ŏyong, a beautiful woman, Ch’ŏyong’s wife, is in effect made to disappear, reduced from a narrative figure with the same potential to act as Ch’ŏyong or the king to the dreadfully inert, passive point or position defined by the king’s intentions toward Ch’ŏyong, Ch’ŏyong’s toward the demon spirit, and the spirit’s desire for her beauty. Her reduction to a one-dimensional point is marked by the phrase “beautiful woman,” much as places, spaces, and ceremonial...

    • CONCLUSION
      (pp. 159-162)

      Reflections on the sijo in the preceding chapter lead me to concluding observations about the persistent theme of oneness in several well-known examples of the genre. The performance of the sijo, the singing of a text but also the telling of the associated story, makes possible the unification of separated entities of some kind. If, as an essentially lyric song, the sijo might be said to take shape around an assumed absence or separation, that void is not the mundane absence of a loved one: the absence lies at the heart’s core, but not some lonely individual’s heart. Given the...

  7. NOTES
    (pp. 163-174)
  8. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 175-176)
  9. INDEX OF NAMES AND TITLES
    (pp. 177-182)
  10. SUBJECT INDEX
    (pp. 183-185)