Sources: Yi Gyubo’s “Ballad of King Dongmyeong” 東明王篇 – part 1 of 3

This is the first part of Yi Gyu-bo’s (李奎報 1168-1241) Dongmyeongwang-pyeon (東明王篇 ‘Ballad of King Dongmyeong’) famous both for being Korea’s earliest known example of epic narrative verse and also for its detailed rendition of the Jumong legend, the mythical founder of Goguryeo.

One interesting thing to perhaps note is how the structure alternates between verse and prose in a manner not dissimilar to the chang aria (唱) and aniri recitative (아니리) passages of pansori which did not itself become fully developed until the 18th century.   Obviously this is not unique to Korean oral literature and in this case the prose sections are strangely repetitive and frequently add little elaboration to the verse so it’s hard to know why Yi Gyubo wrote them like this. 

NB: Text and characters in purple indicate where I am most uncertain of the meaning.

Note also, use of “etc” translates 云云 which regularly appears; there is no abridgement in the translation.

Ballad of King Dongmyeong  東明王篇

In [this] world [people] often recount the divine and supernatural (神異) affair of King Dongmyeong (東明王 ‘eastern light king’). Even foolish men and quick wives (駿婦) are quite able to relate these matters. When I first heard it, I smiled saying, “Master (先師) Zhongni (仲尼, aka Confucius) did not speak of strange (怪) [or] powerful (力) [things, nor of] disorder (亂) or gods (神). This is truly [both] preposterous and bizarre (奇詭). It cannot be related by us.”

[But] subsequently reading the Weishu (魏書) and Daodian (道典 perhaps refers to the Tongdian 通典), they [both] recorded this story though they were brief and not detailed. Perhaps this is the meaning of ‘being detailed on domestic [affairs] and rough on foreign [matters]’.

Then, in the 4th month of Gyechuk (癸丑, 1193), [I] acquired the Old History of the Three Kingdoms (舊三國史) and [upon] reading the Basic Annal section (本記) [discovered that] the vestiges (迹) of those supernatural (神異) [happenings] were related to a greater extent (踰) than matters of [this] world. Things [I] had at first not been able to believe, [I] had considered them demons (鬼) and phantoms (幻), [but] upon reading deeply [some] three times [I] gradually [realised] (漸涉) that its origin was not devilish (幻) but holy (聖). [They were] not demons but gods. What is more (況), would a handwritten book of national history have falsely transmitted these [things]?! Lord Kim Busik (金公富軾) recompiled the national history [but] significantly abridged (略) the story (其事). Thinking about this, the lord [wanted to] make a book of national history which corrected worldly [matters] (矯世), it was not good to have exceptionally strange stories (大異之事) [that would be] shown to later generations and so perhaps [therefore] he omitted them. Examining further, in the basic annal of Tang [emperor] Xuanzong (玄宗) [and] the biography of [his consort] Yang-guifei (楊貴妃), there are no stories of fangshi Taoist wizards (方士) ascending to heaven [or] entering [down] to earth; only the poet Bai Letian (白樂天) was afraid that these stories would disappear (淪沒 lit. ‘sink in water’) [and so] he composed a song with which to record (志) them. These were in fact preposterous (荒), lewd (淫), strange (奇) and untrue (誕) stories, but even so [he] sung of them and [thus] showed them to posterity (後). What is more (矧), the story of [King] Dongmyeong is not [something that] dazzles the common people’s eyes through metamorphoses (變化) and the supernatural (神奇), it is an actual divine vestige of the country’s foundation and so if this is not narrated [now] what will there be to see in the future? For this purpose [I] have composed a poem with which to record it; [I] want all those under heaven (夫天下) to know that our country was originally the capital (都) of holy men (聖人).

元氣判沌渾  원기판돈혼  [When] the primal energy distinguished (判) chaos,
天皇地皇氏  천황지황씨 [there was] the Celestial Emperor and Earthly Emperor.
十三十一頭  십삼십일두  [They had] thirteen [and/or] eleven heads;
體貌多奇異  체모다기이  the shape of their bodies was very strange.
其餘聖帝王  기여성제왕  The remaining holy emperors
亦備載經史  역비재경사  are all recorded in the classics and histories.
女節感大星  여절감대성  Nüjie (女節) sensed a large star
乃生小昊摯  내생소호지  and gave birth to Xiao Haozhi (小昊摯 aka Shao Hao);
女樞生顓頊  여추생전욱  Nüshu (女樞) gave birth to Zhuan Xu (顓頊)
亦感瑤光暐  역감요광위  having sensed the light of the Great Bear constellation.
伏羲制牲犧  복희제생희  Fu Xi (伏羲) established sacrifices,
燧人始鑽燧  수인시찬수  Suiren (燧人) first made fire;
生蓂高帝祥  생명고제상  ming[jia] (蓂莢) grass [first] grew as an omen of the high emperor [Yao 堯],
雨粟神農瑞  우속신농서  [whilst] rain [falling on] millet was an omen (瑞) [from] Shennong (神農 ‘divine farmer’)
靑天女媧補  청천여와보  The blue sky was looked after (補) by Nüwa (女媧);
洪水大禹理  홍수대우리  floods were controlled by Yu the Great (大禹) [of Xia 夏].
黃帝將升天  황제장승천  When the Yellow Emperor ascended to heaven,
胡髥龍自至  호염용자지  a bearded dragon spontaneously arrived.
太古淳朴時  태고순박시  During primitive ancient times
靈聖難備記  영성난비기  with difficulty [they] made records of spirits and sages.
後世漸澆漓  후세점요리  [Through] subsequent generations they gradually diminished (澆漓);
風俗例汰侈  풍속예태치  customs invariably (例) became decadent.
聖人間或生  성인간혹생  Holy ones were sometimes born
神迹少所示  신적소소시  [but] only a small trace of divinity was shown [by them].
漢神雀三年  한신작삼년  In the 3rd Shenqiao year (神雀) of the Han [dynasty]
孟夏斗立巳  맹하두립이  in early summer the Great Bear (refers only to the equivalent constellation, duseong 斗星, but with no explicit bear reference) rose in the southeast.

The 3rd Shenqiao year of Han was the 4th month of Gab’in [year] (甲寅).

海東解慕漱  해동해모수  East of the sea, Hae Mosu (解慕漱)
眞是天之子  진시천지자  was truly the son of heaven.

The Basic Annals (本紀) state that the king of Buyeo, Hae Buru (解夫婁), was old and had no son. Performing sacrificial rites by the mountains and streams he found (求) an heir. The horse he was riding (所御馬至) came to a pool of fish eggs (鯤淵) and seeing a large stone, shed tears. Thinking this strange, the king had one of his men roll the stone [away] and there was a small child shining gold (金邑) in the shape of a frog. The king said, “This is heaven giving a fine heir (令胤) to me.”

[He] took care (牧) of [the baby] and raising it, named him Geumwa (金蛙 ‘golden frog’) making him crown prince. The soothsayer/prime minister (相), Aranbeul (阿蘭弗), said, “The one of the sun (日者) descended from heaven and said [to me], “Soon I will have my grandson establish a kingdom here, you must move away (避). Beside the eastern sea (東海) there is land called Gayeop-won plain (迦葉原); the land is suitable for the five cereals [and so you] should [re]establish your capital [there]. Aranbul [thus] foretold (觀) the king moving the capital. [The new] name was East Buyeo (東夫餘). On [the site of] the old capital, Hae Mosu came as the son of the Celestial Emperor and established [his capital].

初從空中下  초종공중하  At first [he] came down through the air,
身乘五龍軌  신승오룡궤  [his] body riding a five dragon chariot (五龍軌).
從者百餘人  종자백여인  Those following numbered more than a hundred;
騎鵠紛襂襹  기곡분삼려  riding swans (鵠), their feathery robes were splendid,
淸樂動鏘洋  청악동장양  [their] clear music was stirring, sonorous and broad.
彩雲浮旖旎  채운부의니  Coloured clouds thickly floated.

In the 3rd Shenqiao (神雀) year of the Han, the Imsul year (壬戌, of the sexagenary calendar), the Celestial Emperor sent the crown prince who descended and wandered (遊) [on the site of] the Buyeo king’s old capital. He was name Hae Mosu. From heaven he descended riding a five dragon car (五龍車). [His] followers numbered more than a hundred and they rode on white swans (鵠). Coloured clouds floated up [whilst] the sound of music moved through the clouds. Stopping [on] Ungsim-san mountain (熊心山 ‘bear heart mountain’), [he] spent more than ten days before starting to descend. On his head, he wore a crown (冠) of bird feathers; on his waist a sword of dragon light (龍光之劍).

自古受命君  자고수명군  From times of yore, a sovereign who receives a command,
何是非天賜  하시비천사  what is this if not a celestial bestowing?
白日下靑冥  백일하청명  White sun descends to the blue dark;
從昔所未[目+示]  종석소미시  since long ago, it has not been seen.
朝居人世中  조거인세중  Living amongst the world of men in the morning
暮反天宮裡  모반천궁리  [and] in the evening returning to the inside of the celestial palace.

In the morning [he] listened to matters, in the evening [he] ascended to heaven. [People of the] world called him the Young Celestial King (天王郞).

吾聞於古人  오문어고인  I have heard from people of old (the ancients)
蒼穹之去地  창궁지거지  that the distance between the sky and earth
二億萬八千  이억만팔천  is two hundred million, eight thousand
七百八十里  칠백팔십리  seven hundred and eighty li.
梯棧躡難升  제잔섭난승  It would be difficult to ascend with a ladder;
羽翮飛易瘁  우핵비역췌  feathers and wings easily tire from flying.
朝夕恣升降  조석차승강  Freely ascending and descending morning and night
此理復何爾  차리복하이  what principle is this?
城北有淸河  성북유청하  North of the fortress (citadel) is the Cheongha river.

The Cheong-ha river (淸河) is the present day Amnok-gang river (鴨綠江).

河伯三女美  하백삼녀미  The three daughters of Habaek were beautiful.

The eldest was named Yuhwa (柳花), the next Hwonhwa (萱花) and the youngest Wihwa (葦花).

壁出鴨頭波  벽출압두피  Emerging from the head of the Amnok waves,
往遊熊心涘  왕유웅심사  Bear-heart swam in the waters.

Bear-heart emerged from the Cheongha and played above the pools.

鏘琅佩玉嗚  장랑패옥오  The jewels hanging from his belt jingle.
綽約顔花媚  작약안화미  His soft, delicate face is beautiful as a flower.

His divine form was attractive and pretty (艶麗), his jewels jingled; there was no difference to Han’go (漢皐).

初疑漢皐濱  초의한고빈  At first Han’go was suspicious of the water.
復想洛水沚  복상낙수지  [Then] he thought again of the Naksu river’s sandy bank.
王因出獵見  왕인출엽견  The king set forth to hunt and look,
目送頗留意  목송파유의  Casting his eyes it greatly appealed to him.
玆非悅紛華  자비열분화  It wasn’t that he only liked wonderful things,
誠急生繼嗣  송급생계사  he was truly in a hurry to have born a successor.

The king said to his attendants, “I’ll take her and make her queen, then I can have an heir.”

三女見君來  삼녀견군래  The three daughters saw the lord approaching.
入水尋相避  입수심상피  Entering the water, he search and they avoided.
將作宮殿  의장작궁전  He would build a palace
潛候同來戱  잠후동래희  so that hiding he could watch them play together.
馬撾一畫地  마과일획지  He struck his horse whip on the ground
銅室欻然峙  동실훌연치  a copper house suddenly erected itself.
錦席鋪絢明  금석포현명  Silk seats were dazzlingly bright;
金罇置淳旨  금준치순지  golden cups were set out [filled] with a simple taste.
蹁躚果自入  편선과자입  In the end they entered of their own accord;
對酌還徑醉  대작환경취  they drank facing one another and became intoxicated.

These girls seeing the king went straight into the water. His attendants said, “Great King, could you not build a palace, wait for the girls to enter and then block the doors?” The king thought to do this. Striking his horse whip on the ground, a copper house suddenly formed magnificently. Inside were set three seats and wine was placed. The girls each sat at one of these seats; facing one another drinking wine, they became drunk etc (云云).

王時出橫遮  왕시출횡차  At this time the king went out and barred [the gate],
驚走僅顚躓  경주근전지  surprised they ran and almost fell over.

The king waited for the three girls to get very drunk, then he hurried out to bolt [the gate]. The girls were surprised and ran; the eldest daughter, Yuhwa, was stopped by the king.

長女曰柳花  장녀왈유화  The eldest daughter called Yuhwa
是爲王所止  시위왕소지  was stopped by the king.
河伯大怒嗔  하백대노진  Habaek was greatly angered;
遣使急且駛  견사급조사  she dispatched emissaries who speeded forth.
告云渠何人  고운거하인  They spoke their message, “What person are you
乃敢放輕肆  내감방경사  who dares to act in such an impudent manner?”
報云天帝子  보운천제자  [He] replied, “I am the son of the Celestial Emperor
高族請相累  고족청상누  I ask to form a bond between two noble families.”
指天降龍馭  지천강룡어  Pointing to heaven, down came a dragon he could ride [or simply ‘a dragon carriage’];
經到海宮邃  경도해궁수  driving it, he arrived deep in the sea palace.

Habaek was greatly angered and dispatched emissaries saying, “What person are you who holds my daughter?”

The king replied, “I am the son of the Celestial Emperor I wish to marry Habaek.”

Habaek again sent her emissary, “If you are the son of the Celestial Emperor and seek to marry me, you must used an appropriate intermediary. What rudeness is this to suddenly restrain (留) my daughter?!”

Feeling ashamed [the king] planned to visit Habaek, but was unable to enter [her] palace (室). He wanted to release the girl but she had already developed feelings (情) for him and was unwilling to leave. She said to him, “If we had a dragon carriage (龍車) we would be able to go to Habaek’s realm.”

The king pointed at the sky and spoke [some words] whereupon a dragon carriage descended from the air. The king and girl got in the carriage, wind and clouds suddenly rose up and they were at the palace.

河伯乃謂王  하백내위왕  Habaek said to the king,
婚姻是大事  혼인시대사  “Marriage is a big matter,
媒贄有通法  매지유통법  it requires an intermediary and exchange of gifts.
胡奈得自恣  호내득자자  How can you be so willfully impudent?”

Habaek received [the king] with correct ritual and taking [her] seat [or ‘them both sitting’], said, “The way of marriage is conducted according to the rules under heaven. How can [you] behave with such impropriety and insult my family (門宗)?!” etc.

君是上帝胤  군시상제윤  “If you are the son of the emperor upon high,
神變請可試  신변청가시  you would be able to compete in divine metamorphoses.”
漣漪碧波中  연의벽파중  In the surging green waves,
河伯化作鯉  하백화작리  Habaek changed into a carp.
王尋變爲獺  왕심변위달  In pursuit the king transformed into an otter;
立捕不待跬  입포불대규  [He] did not wait a few steps [before] catching [her].
又復生兩翼  우복생양익  Again [she] grew two wings,
翩然化爲雉  편연화위치  Flying up she changed into a pheasant
王又化神鷹  왕우화신응  The king again changed into a divine hawk
搏擊何大鷙  박격하대지  [He] attacked her [like] some great bird of prey.
彼爲鹿而走  피위녹이주  The other became a deer and ran off;
我爲豺而趨  아위시이추  This one became a dhole [wild dog] and chased after.
河伯知有神  하백지유신  Habaek [now] knew [he] had divine [powers],
置酒相燕喜  치주상연희  She prepared wine and they joyfully feasted together.
伺醉載革輿  사취재혁여  Waiting for their intoxication, she put him in a leather palanquin,
並寘女於[車+奇] 병치여어의  And her daughter beside him in the ui.

The side of a palanquin (輿) is called a ui (車+奇).

意令與其女  의령여기녀  [Her] intention was to [take] him and the girl
天上同騰  천상동등비  and ascend up to heaven (轡?)
其車未出水  기거미출수  [But] before the vehicle had emerged from the water,
酒醒忽驚起  주성홀경기  [he] sobered up and suddenly stood surprised.

Habaek’s wine took seven days to sober up from.

取女黃金釵  취녀황금채  Taking the girl’s golden hairpin,
刺革從穹出  자혁종궁출  [he] pierced the leather and went out through the hole.
獨乘赤霄上  독승적소상  Alone [he] mounted the red sky and ascended;
寂寞不廻騎  적막불회기  Lonely and sad, no news came back.

Habaek said, “[If] the king is the son of the Celestial Emperor, you would have some divine difference (神異).”

The king said, “It is only [visible] in contest.”

Now Habaek went to the water in front of the garden and changed into a carp. Following the waves she [swam] around. The king changed into an otter and caught her. Habaek then changed into a deer and ran; the king changed into a dhole and pursued her. Habaek changed into a pheasant; the king changed into a hawk and attacked her. With this Habaek [knew] he was truly (誠) the son of the Celestial Emperor. With proper rites they were married, [but Habaek] was afraid that he might not have the heart for [her] daughter. Providing music (樂) and wine, she offered them to the king who became greatly intoxicated. Together with her daughter, they got inside the little leather carriage; riding the dragon carriage, [she] intended to order [it] to ascend to heaven. [But] before the vehicle had emerged from the water, the king sobered up; taking the girl’s golden hairpin, he pierced the leather carriage. Emerging through the hole, he ascended to heaven by himself.

Continue to part 2..

9 thoughts on “Sources: Yi Gyubo’s “Ballad of King Dongmyeong” 東明王篇 – part 1 of 3

  1. Wow difficult poems. Btw, 立己 might be a reference to a constellation. I don’t know Korean asterism too well. I do have a translation of an excerpt from the 步天歌. You can find translations of the entire poem in Korean along with the original in the Korean blogsphere.

    • Thanks. My source text had it as 立己 (립이), but checking the facsimile and some other online versions, it should have been 立巳 (립사), where 巳 surely refers to one of the 24 directions, 巳方.. which all makes a bit more sense!

  2. Pingback: Sources: Yi Gyubo’s “Ballad of King Dongmyeong” 東明王篇 – part 2 of 3 | Koreanology

  3. Pingback: Was Goguryeo 高句麗 (Gāogōulí) Korean or Chinese? – draft thoughts | Koreanology

  4. Pingback: Sources: Yi Gyubo’s “Ballad of King Dongmyeong” 東明王篇 – part 3 of 3 | Koreanology

  5. Pingback: Was Goguryeo 高句麗 (Gāogōulí) Korean or Chinese? – draft thoughts | Koreanology

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