Yi Saek – Bubyeokru

GirinApparently, there is a report that North Korean Archeologists have found the “lair of the unicorn” rode by King Dongmyeong (東明王, 동명왕, 58BC-19BC), who was the founding monarch of Goguryeo (高句麗, 고구려, 37BC-668AD). This mistranslation of Girin (麒麟, 기린), a mythical chimerical creature with hooves, as unicorn, a mythical horse with a spiraling horn projecting from its forehead, is lamentable in that it further perpetuates cultural ignorance and misunderstanding and justifies arrogance — not that I am defending the DPRK. What the North Koreans have supposedly found — a finding I think very highly suspect — is the Girin Cave (麒麟窟, 기린굴), whose location is described in Newly Revised Geographical View of the Eastern Country (新增東國輿地勝覽, 신증동국여지승람; Shinjeung Dongguk Yeojiseungram) which was published in 1530:

在九梯宮內浮碧樓下, 東明王養麒麟馬, 于此後人立石誌之.
재구제궁내부벽루하, 동명왕양기린마, 우차후인립석지지.

世傳: 王乘麒麟馬, 入此窟從地中, 出朝天石, 升天其馬跡至今在石上.
세전: 왕승기린마, 입차굴종지중, 출조천석, 승천기마적지금재석상.

Within the Nine Ladders Palace (九梯宮, 구제궁; Gujegung), below the Tower of Floating Azure (浮碧樓, 부벽루; Bubyeokru), King Dongmyeong raised Girin. At this place, people after erected a stone monument marking [the location]. It has been passed down through the generations that the King rode his Girin, entered into this cave from the middle of the earth. Exiting the Stone of the Morning Sky (朝天石, 조천석; Jocheonseok), he ascended to the heavens and his Girin’s footprints are present above the stone up to today.

There is also a poem in reference to this mythical event, composed by Yi Saek (李穡, 이색, 1328-1396). He was a literary bureaucrat during the late period of the Goryeo dynasty. Yi Saek was of the Hansan Yi Clan (韓山李氏, 한산이씨). His courtesy name (字, 자) was Yeongsuk (穎叔, 영숙) and his pen name was Mokeun (牧隱, 목은). He was a contemporary of Jeong Mongju (鄭夢周, 정몽주), who was killed after the collapsed of the Goryeo dynasty, because he refused to serve two masters (不事二君, 불사이군). Yi Saek, on the other hand, resigned from government office after the collapse of the Goryeo dynasty. He was a proponent of Neo-Confucianism in Korea.

부벽루 浮碧樓


昨過永明寺 작과영명사
暫登浮碧樓 잠등부벽루
城空一片月 성공일편월
石老雲千秋 석로운천추
麟馬去不返 린마거불반
天孫何處遊 천손하처유
長嘯倚風磴 장소의풍등
山靑江自流 산청강자류

Yesterday, passing by Yeongmyeongsa (永明寺, 영명사),
Momentarily, I climbed up the Bubyeokru (浮碧樓, 부벽루).
The city was empty, with only one piece of the moon;
The rocks have become old, and the clouds have aged thousand autumns.
The Girin has departed and have never returned;
In what place is Heaven’s Son frolicking?
Whistling for awhile, I lean on the windy incline;
The mountains are green and the rivers flow by themselves.


  • Yeongmyeongsa (永明寺, 영명사) is located in Pyongyang (平壤, 평양) and was one of the oldest and largest Buddhist temples in Korea. The temple suffered heavy damage during the First Sino-Japanese War but rebuilt during the Japanese occupation. It was later completely destroyed by American carpet bombing of Pyongyang during the Korean War.
  • Bubyeokru (浮碧樓, 부벽루) is a pavilion located in Mount Geumsu (錦繡山, 금수산) in Pyongyang.


  • 嘯(소) – To whistle (휘파람을 불다).
  • 磴(등) – Rocky inclined road (돌 비탈길).

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