DURING the Japanese War in the reign of Son-jo, the Mings sent a great army that came east, drove out the enemy and restored peace. At that time the general of the Mings informed his Korean Majesty that the victory was due to the help of Kwan, the God of War. "This being the case," said he, "you ought not to continue without temples in which to express your gratitude to him." So they built him houses of worship and offered him sacrifice. The Temples built were one to the south and one to the east of the city. In examining sites for these they could not agree on the one to the south. Some wanted it nearer the wall and some farther away. At that time an official, called Yi Hang-bok, was in charge of the conference. On a certain day when Yi was at home a military officer called and wished to see him. Ordering him in he found him a great strapping fellow, splendidly built. His request was that Yi should send out all his retainers till he talked to him privately. They were sent out, and then the stranger gave his message. After he had finished, he said good-bye and left.
Yi had at that time an old friend stopping with him. The friend went out with the servants when they were asked to leave, and now he came back again. When he came in he noticed that the face of the master had a very peculiar expression, and he asked him the reason of it. Yi made no reply at first, but later told his friend that a very extraordinary thing had happened. The military man who had come and called was none other than a messenger of the God of War. His coming, too, was on account of their not yet having decided in regard to the site for the Temple. "He came," said Yi, "to show me where it ought to be. He urged that it was not a matter for time only, but for the eternities to come. If we do not get it right the God of War will find no peace. I told him in reply that I would do my best. Was this not strange?"
The friend who heard this was greatly exercised, but Yi warned him not to repeat it to any one. Yi used all his efforts, and at last the building was placed on the approved site, where it now stands.
Yi Hang-bok.--When he was a child a blind fortune-teller came and cast his future, saying, "This boy will be very great indeed."
At seven years of age his father gave him for subject to write a verse on "The Harp and the Sword," and he wrote--
"The Sword pertains to the Hand of the Warrior
And the Harp to the Music of the Ancients."
At eight he took the subject of the "Willow before the Door," and wrote--
"The east wind brushes the brow of the cliff
And the willow on the edge nods fresh and green."
On seeing a picture of a great banquet among the fierce Turks of Central Asia, he wrote thus--
"The hunt is off in the wild dark hills,
And the moon is cold and gray,
While the tramping feet of a thousand horse
Ring on the frosty way.
In the tents of the Turk the music thrills
And the wine-cups chink for joy,
'Mid the noise of the dancer's savage tread
And the lilt of the wild hautboy."
At twelve years of age he was proud, we are told, and haughty. He dressed well, and was envied by the poorer lads of the place, and once he took off his coat and gave it to a boy who looked with envy on him. He gave his shoes as well, and came back barefoot. His mother, wishing to know his mind in the matter, pretended to reprimand him, but he replied, saying, "Mother, when others wanted it so, how could I refuse giving?" His mother pondered these things in her heart.
When he was fifteen he was strong and well-built, and liked vigorous exercise, so that he was a noted wrestler and skilful at shuttlecock. His mother, however, frowned upon these things, saying that they were not dignified, so that he gave them up and confined his attention to literary studies, graduating at twenty-five years of age.
In 1592, during the Japanese War, when the King escaped to Eui-ju, Yi Hang-bok went with him in his flight, and there he met the Chinese (Ming) representative, who said in surprise to his Majesty, "Do you mean to tell me that you have men in Cho-sen like Yi Hang-bok?" Yang Ho, the general of the rescuing forces, also continually referred to him for advice and counsel. He lived to see the troubles in the reign of the wicked Kwang-hai, and at last went into exile to Puk-chong. When he crossed the Iron Pass near Wonsan, he wrote--
"From the giddy height of the Iron Peak,
I call on the passing cloud,
To take up a lonely exile's tears
In the folds of its feathery shroud,
And drop them as rain on the Palace Gates,
On the King, and his shameless crowd."
Temple to the God of War, The
Korean Folk Tales: Imps, Ghosts and Fairies
Bang, Im & Ryuk, Yi
E. P. Dutton & Co.
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