Cheollyeop천렵 was a summertime recreational activity usually enjoyed from the end of rice planting in spring to the fall harvest. People used to go fishing in a river or a creek and cook the fish they caught right there on the spot. Playing in the cold water under the excuse of catching fish was one of the old ways to relax and cool down in the summer. The fish would become a nutritional stew that would re-energize heat-exhausted people. The first song we have for this week’s episode is “June and July,” a song describing people fishing on a rainy day. It appears to be the perfect piece for the rainy season we’re experiencing lately. In the lyrics, a fisherman asks a young boy to take his catch home and tell his wife to cook it for him. The boy answers that he cannot guarantee that he would do as he is told because he is already too busy working as a servant. The song leaves us hanging at the end, without telling us whether the boy fulfilled the man’s request or not. Several old songs have passages in which someone asks another person for a favor, but the other person politely gives excuses to refuse the plea. Perhaps the songs meant to teach people a lesson – When you ask for a favor and you happened to have been fishing, give a few fish to sweeten the deal. Maybe you’ll have a better chance of having your request fulfilled. Here’s Park Sang-ok singing “June and July.”
June and July/ Sung by Park Sang-ok
Cheollyeop involved going into the water and catching fish. Such bold action would have been difficult for yangban or noblemen of the old who valued dignity. They would never bare their limbs and would dress perfectly no matter how hot it is, and they would never think of actually going into the water to catch fish. The most daring thing noblemen would do would be “takjok탁족,” or just dipping one’s feet in water. Takjok originated from Chinese philosopher Mencius’ writing in which he wrote, “One would wash the hat string in the clear water and the feet in the muddle water.” Scholars or gentlemen in the Joseon period not only washed their feet in the cold water, but also cleansed their minds. But noblemen and scholars were human after all. When they wanted to catch fish desperately, they would have jumped into the water regardless of the decorum. Coming up next is a gagok가곡 song entitled “Urak우락” which describes a Confucian scholar fishing. The following is the lyrics from the song.
I lost my fishing rod while dozing and lost my straw raincoat while dancing.
White seagull, do not mock me for being old and senile.
Peach blossoms bloom in the distance, making me happy with the charms of spring.
Urak/ Sung by Lee Dong-kyu
Confucian scholars called ‘seonbi선비’ in the Joseon period didn’t really care how many fish they caught when they fished. Fishing wasn’t to catch fish but a way to escape from the world’s greed and obsession. An ancient Chinese strategist nobleman named Jiang Ziya is said to have fished all his life but never caught one, because he only used a straight fishing hook. But he met King Wen of the Zhou later in life and helped the kingdom of Zhou conquer China. Jiang Ziya is is better known as Kang Taegong강태공 or Grand Duke Jiang, the epitome of fishermen. It is said that the reason Grand Duke Jiang cast his fishing rod was not to catch fish, but to catch time. The reason seonbi of the old spent time fishing was to follow Grand Duke Jiang’s example and to live out the rest of their lives as virtuous scholars who retired from the material world to live in peace. This week’s episode will conclude with “Eobusasisa어부사시사,” a sijo poem written by Joseon-era writer Yun Seon-do윤선도. The lyrics go something like, “The tide is surging on a bright spring morning when the morning mist had lifted from the river and the sun illuminated the mountain. It is the perfect time to retrieve the anchor and go fishing.”
Eobusasisa/ Sung by Kim Na-ri