Revised Romanizationhyangga

Hyangga (Korean: 향가/鄕歌) were poems written using Chinese characters in a system known as hyangchal during the Unified Silla and early Goryeo periods of Korean history. Only a few have survived. The number of extant hyangga ranges between 25[1] and 27, depending on whether the hyangga are regarded as authentic or not.


The hyangga were written using Chinese characters in a system known as hyangchal. They are believed to have been first written in the Goryeo period, as the style was already beginning to fade. 14 hyangga are recorded in the Samguk Yusa and 11 in the Gyunyeojeon. Wihong, the husband of Queen Jinseong of Silla, and the monk Taegu-Hwasang compiled a book about hyangga.[1]

The name hyangga is formed from the character for "back-country" or "rural village" (used by Silla people describing their nation, specifically to distinguish these distinctly Silla poems from pure Chinese literature) and the character for "song." These poems are accordingly sometimes known as "Silla songs."

Another dominant theme was death. Many of the poems are eulogies to monks, to warriors, and to family members — in one case, a sister. The Silla period, especially before unification in 668, was a time of warfare: the hyangga capture the sorrow of mourning for the dead while Buddhism provided answers about where the dead go and the afterlife.


The structure of hyangga is incompletely understood. The only[2] contemporaneous reference is a comment by the compiler of Gyunyeo's biography that "their poetry is written in Chinese in penta- and heptasyllabic lines, [while] our songs are written in the vernacular in three gu and six myeong".[3] What is meant by "three gu and six myeong" remains unresolved. Peter H. Lee interprets it as "three-line stanzas of six phrases each",[3] while Alexander Vovin translates it more literally as "three stanzas, six names".[2]

Since the work of linguist Shinpei Ogura in the 1920s,[4] surviving hyangga have traditionally been classified into one of three forms: a single-quatrain form used in folk songs; an intermediate two-quatrain form; and a ten-line form of two quatrains and a concluding couplet, the most fully developed form of hyangga.[3] This classification has been questioned in Korean scholarship since the 1980s,[5] and a new hypothesis, proposed by Kim Sung-kyu in 2016, suggests that there were really only two forms of hyangga, a single-quatrain form and a two-tercet form.[6] Kim interprets two consecutive lines of the ten-line form as one long line with a caesura and the so-called concluding couplet of the ten-line hyangga to be a refrain for each of the stanzas, forming two tercets with shared final lines.[7] Kim argues that apparently eight-line forms are the result of a line being lost during transmission.[8] The two hypotheses are illustrated below with the ten-line work Jemangmae-ga, written for the funeral of the poet's sister. The translation is from the Korean of Sung 2006.[9]

Ten-line reading Translation



















阿也 彌陀刹良逢乎吾


The path of life and death

Were [you] so afraid when it was here

(4) That [you] went and could not say

(3) Even the words, "I'm going"?

(6) Like leaves that float and fall hither-thither

(5) By unripe autumn's early winds,

Stemming from one branch

Knowing not where [we] go.

(10) Ah, [you] will clear the road and wait

(9) For me, to meet in the pure land.

Six-line reading Translation













Were [you] so afraid when the path of life and death was here

That [you] went and could not say even the words, "I'm going"?

Ah, [you] will clear the road and wait for me, to meet in the pure land.

Like leaves that float and fall hither-thither by unripe autumn's early winds,

Stemming from one branch, knowing not where [we] go.

Ah, [you] will clear the road and wait for me, to meet in the pure land.


A typical hyangga is "the Ode for Life Eternal" or, perhaps, "the Ode for Nirvana". The poem is a song that calls upon the moon to convey the supplicant's prayer to the Western paradise, the home of Amita (or Amitabha, the Buddha of the Western Pure Land Sukhavati). The poem's authorship is somewhat unclear; it was either written by a monk named Gwangdeok (hangul:광덕 hanja:) or, one source says, the monk's wife.[10]

Idu Medieval Korean Modern Korean Translation
願往生歌 원왕생가 왕생을 기원하는 노래 Ode to Eternal Life

(translation by Mark Peterson, 2006)

月下伊低赤 달하 이제 달이여 이제 Oh Moon!
西方念丁去賜里遣 서방까정 가시리고 서방(西方) 넘어 가시려는고 As you go to the west this night,
無量壽佛前乃 무량수불전에 무량수불전(無量壽佛前)에 I pray thee, go before the eternal Buddha,
惱叱古音多可支白遣賜立 닛곰다가 살ㅂ고사서 일러서 사뢰옵소서 And tell him that there is one here
誓音深史隱尊衣希仰支 다짐 깊으샨 존에 울워러 다짐 깊으신 아미타불을 우러러 Who adores Him of the deep oaths,
兩手集刀花乎白良 두손 모도호살바 두 손을 모두어 And chants daily with hands together, saying
願往生願往生 원왕 생 원왕 생 왕생(往生)을 원하며 Oh grant me eternal life,
慕人有如白遣賜立 그럴 사람 있다 살ㅂ고사서 그리워하는 사람 있다 사뢰소서 Oh grant me eternal life,
阿耶 此身遣也置古 아으 이몸 기쳐두고 아아 이 몸을 남겨 놓고 But alas, can any of the 48 vows be kept
四十八大願成遣賜去 사십팔대원 일고살까 사십 팔 대원(大願) 이루실까 While still trapped in this mortal frame?


Hyangga in the Samguk yusa
Title English Author Date Graphs/lines[11] Location Text
Hyeseong ga[12] Song of a Comet Master Yungcheon c. 594 83/10 2:228
Seodong yo[13] Song of Seodong King Mu of Baekje c. 600 25/4 2:98
Pung yo[14] Ode to Yangji anonymous c. 635 26/4 4:187–188
Won wangsaeng ga[15] Prayer to Amitāyus / Ode for Life Eternal Gwangdeok or his wife c. 661–681 77/10 5:220
Mo Jukjilang ga[16] Ode to Knight Jukji Deugo c. 692–702 60/8 2:76–78
Heonhwa ga[14] Dedication of the Flower an old herdsman c. 702–737 34/4 2:79
Won ga[17] Regret Sinchung c. 737 56/8 5:232–233
Chan Gipalang ga[18] Ode to Knight Gipa Master Chungdam c. 742–765 71/10 2:80–81
Dosol ga[19] Song of Tuṣita Heaven Master Weolmyeong c. 760 37/4 5:222
Je mangmae ga[20] Requiem for the Dead Sister Master Weolmyeong c. 762–765 75/10 2:79–80
Do Cheonsu Gwaneum ga[21][a] Hymn to the Thousand-Eyed Sound Observer Huimyeong[b] c. 762–765 81/10 3:158–159
Anmin ga[23] Statesmanship Master Chungdam c. 765 98/10 2:79–80
Ujeog ga[24] Meeting with Bandits Master Yeonghae c. 785–798 75/10 5:235
Cheoyong ga[25] Song of Cheoyong Cheoyong c. 879 61/8 2:88–89

The 11 hyangga composed by Kyunyeo are:[26]

  1. Yekyeong Jebul ga (Veneration of Buddhas,
  2. Chingchan Yorae ga (In Praise of Tathagata/Buddha,
  3. Gwangsu Gongyang ga (Abundant Offerings to Buddha,
  4. Chamhoe Opjang ga (Repentance of Sins and Retribution,
  5. Suhui Kongdeok ga (Rejoice in the Rewards of Virtue,
  6. Cheongjeon Beopyun ga (The Revolving Wheel of Law,
  7. Cheongbul Juse ga (Entreaty to the Coming of Buddha,
  8. Sangsun Bulhak ga (Faithful Observance of Buddha's Teachings,
  9. Hangsun Jungsaeng ga (Constant Harmony with Other Beings,
  10. Bogae Hoehyang ga (Salvation of All Living Beings,
  11. Chonggyeol Mujin ga (The Everlasting Conclusion,

See also


  1. ^ Also called cheonsudaebiga.[22]
  2. ^ A woman who lived in hangiri, gyeongju.The woman composed the hyanga while praying for her blind five-year old son to Cheonsugwaneum(Guanyin with 1000 hands) at Bunhwangsa temple, and as a result of this endeavour, it is said that her blind son eventually opened his eyes.[22]



  1. ^ a b the translators of Il-yeon's: Samguk Yusa: Legends and History of the Three Kingdoms of Ancient Korea, translated by Tae-Hung Ha and Grafton K. Mintz. Book Two, page 107. Silk Pagoda (2006). ISBN 1-59654-348-5
  2. ^ a b Vovin 2017, p. 17.
  3. ^ a b c Lee P. 2003, p. 69.
  4. ^ Sung 1988, pp. 157–158.
  5. ^ Sung 1988, pp. 157–163.
  6. ^ Kim S. 2016, p. 194.
  7. ^ Kim S. 2016, pp. 183–193.
  8. ^ Kim S. 2016, pp. 194–203.
  9. ^ "生死路는 / 이에 있으매 두려워서 / '나는 간다' 말도 / 못다(또는 못) 이르고 간 것이오? / 날가을 이른 바람에 / 여기저기에 떠서 질 잎같이 / 한 가지에 나고도 / 가는 곳 모르는구나! / 아아! 彌陀刹에서 만날 나를 / (그대는) 길 닦아 기다릴 것이오." Sung 2006, p. 282
  10. ^ (in Korean)Several examples of Hwangga
  11. ^ Koo 1999, pp. 198–199.
  12. ^ Lee P. 2003, p. 74.
  13. ^ Lee P. 2003, pp. 70–71.
  14. ^ a b Lee P. 2003, p. 71.
  15. ^ Lee P. 2003, pp. 74–75.
  16. ^ Lee P. 2003, p. 72.
  17. ^ Lee P. 2003, pp. 72–73.
  18. ^ Lee P. 2003, pp. 77–78.
  19. ^ Lee P. 2003, pp. 71–72.
  20. ^ Lee P. 2003, pp. 75, 77.
  21. ^ Lee P. 2003, p. 79.
  22. ^ a b "희명". Encyclopedia of Korean Culture.
  23. ^ Lee P. 2003, pp. 78–79.
  24. ^ Lee P. 2003, pp. 79–81.
  25. ^ Lee P. 2003, pp. 73–74.
  26. ^ Koo (1999), p. 200.


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