Yi Tal (1539–1612), whose literary name is Son’gok, is regarded as a representative poet of the mid-Chosŏn period. As an illegitimate son of a yangban, despite his talent and education, Yi suffered state-sanctioned injustices like other members of his class. He had a brief career as an Education Official (hakgwan) in the Translation Office (Sayŏg’won) and served as a Diplomatic Attendant (chongsagwan) tasked with composing poems during an official visit by a Ming envoy. Yi was a nonconformist and he lived and died as a wandering poet. As a poet, he aspired to High Tang poetry, especially the poetry of the Tang poet Du Fu. Influences from Du’s poetry are noticeable in the themes and styles of Yi’s poetic works, in particular in their shared autobiographical approach to poetry. Yi’s literary talents were recognized by contemporary writers. He befriended yangban poets Ch’oe Kyŏngch’ang (1539–1583) and Paek Kwanghun (1537–1582), and the three were called the “Three Tang poets” in their literary circle. As a group, they were highly critical of the Song style of poetry and advocated for a revival of High Tang poetry. Yi taught poetry to Hŏ Kyun (1569–1618) and Hŏ Nansŏrhŏn (1563–1589), the sibling literary icons of the sixteenth century. After Yi’s death, his poems were collected and published by Hŏ Kyun under the title Son’gok chip [The collected works of Sŏn’gok] in 1618. Yi’s poems contain sensitive and candid portrayals of life of a wandering poet, the misery of poverty, the devastation caused by the Japanese invasion of Korea, the comfort of friendship, and the simple joys of life.
The Translation of Selected Poems by Yi Tal
Reflections on the War
Reflections on Scenery
Feelings of Home