(by Yi Chung-kwi (李廷龜) 1603 A.D. (1564-1635 A.D.)


(Biographical Note:— Yi Chung-kwi, a famous literary master of Korea, was born in the same year as Shakespeare, though he outlived the English Sage by 19 years. He is one of the greatest of the literati, and has left a long list of recorded works. He made the trip to the Diamond Mountains when he was 39 years of age. Unfortunately his trip was not as complete as one could have wished. J. S. G.)


When I was young I visited many of the hills of my native country but had never seen the Eight Sights of the East Coast. Now, with responsible office on hand, and years of experience back of me, I had less and less freedom to come and go; and all my plans, more than once, for such a trip, had come to naught.

In the year ke-myo (1603), however, repairs were made on the Tomb of T’ai-jo’s mother in Ham-heung, and it was customary on such occasions for one of the highest officials of the Office of Ceremony to see to the work and report. I was at the time head of this office and it naturally fell to me, though His Majesty had not yet signified His approval. My special desire for going was that on my return I might come by way of An-pyun. and see the Diamond Mountains.

On the 1st day of the 8th moon I paid my respects to the Court, and asked permission to resign all subsidiary offices, but this request was refused. Some of the ministers said, “How can any one in charge of the Office of Ceremony make so great a journey?” Thus the matter hung fire for some days but I repeated my request so urgently that permission was finally given.

Han Suk-pong was at that time the magistrate of Hyup-gok, and he happened to be in Seoul. He joined our party and we moved outside the East Gate, where we put up for the night.

I did not take any household servants with me except a skilled flautist, whose name was Han Moo-soi. My remarks to Han Suk-pong were something like this:

“This journey is by the good favour of God, and here I have the master of Hyup-gok for my companion. Another piece of great good luck is the fact that Ch’oi Rip is the magistrate of Kan-sung. If he hears that I am coming he will assuredly plan for a meeting. We shall enter the mountains of the fairy together, such a happy pilgrimage will be ours as mortals seldom see. In fifteen days or so I shall finish all I have to do in Ham-heung, and return, while you go ahead and await my coming.”

Suk-pong replied, “My good fortune is that I am a member of Your Excellency’s party where we are to make the journey together. We shall behold the world of the fairy, write down our impressions, and have something worth remembering superior even to our trip to Japan.

We reached the post-station, Sin-an, ana there the station-master pointed out a road to the right that leads east and crosses the Hair-cut Pass, a hundred li distant (Tan-pal). Hearing this my joy was full to overflowing. We waited for some little time so I wrote a poem and sang it while Moo-soi accompanied me on the flute.           

Passing on we reached Hoi-yang. The magistrate, Han Soo-min, brought me sool and cheered us on our way. This drink and other refreshments were most excellent in flavour. I wrote a poem here and pasted it upon the wall of the room. Later 1 included it among my collected works.

On the 11th day we reached Ham-heung and by the 15th I had finished the work that I had come to do.

On the 17th I bade farewell and came as far as Yung- heung. On the 18th I was overtaken by a fast courier from the north carrying official despatches. Word was that Manchu barbarians, several hundred horsemen of them, had crossed the border and surrounded the town of Chung-sung, that the magistrate, Chung Si-whoi, was taken prisoner, but whether dead or alive no one knew. I was greatly perturbed by this, in fact knocked clear off my feet.

On the 22nd day I reached An-pyun. Here the magistrate Nam Cha-yoo, had a feast prepared in the Ke-tang Hall, his brother and sons being present The next day he urged me to remain still, saying that the day following was his mother’s birthday, so 1 waited two days in all. I hoped also for news from the north.

These northern barbarians, not being in any great force were expected soon to retire. We waited at An-pyun and bent our ears to hear, till word came that matters were gradually growing worse and all the people were in a great state of excitement.

When I left Seoul I had not resigned my connection with the War Office, and so I felt that it would be unworthy of me to leave the country to its fate and go off for pleasure. I therefore wrote a note to the different magistrates excusing myself and started for Seoul on the 25th, by the main road, crossing the Ch’ul Yung Pass that day. The plan that I had cherished for years, with all its delightful anticipations, had fallen through. As I mounted the hill and looked off toward the land of the fairy, my heart was as much disturbed as though I had lost my choicest treasure.

We arrived about the Sin hour (4 P.M.) at the Hoi-yang River when suddenly there came a courier from the north at full speed with word that the invaders had retired across the border, and were gone. Now my regrets were that I had not waited at An-pyun.

By evening I reached Hoi-yang. The magistrate was not there but off in the hills awaiting my arrival. I went into the vacant guest-room, sat down ana inquired as to how far it was to the Diamond Mountains.

The secretary replied that it was 180 li by way of Wha-chun and 160 by way of T’ong-koo, but that the T’ong-koo road was very rough. I then called my assistant and remarked that the Creator (Cho-mool Choo) was evidently jealous of me, and that the devils (ma) had blocked my way. “This” said I, “is really the saddest thing I have ever known. If I fail of my wish and have to go back to the dust and worry of the Capital, I shall be filled with resentment even to the Yellow Shades. Now, however, that the invaders have made off, there is no need for me to specially hasten back. A few days, more or less, will make no difference. Let me look the inner mountains over and find for my pent up wishes some measure of fulfilment.”

My joys awoke again and I scarcely slept a wink. Before cock-crow I had the horses fed, and was ready to be off, hoping to make the journey in one day. I asked Yi Hyung-wun if he could follow me. Yi said, “Though somewhat difficult, I’ll try.”

I summoned the people of the office and ordered them to make ready three days food, each man to carry his own portion. By the fourth watch of the night, all having been put in readiness, we were off and soon reached Sin-an, 40 li. Even yet the night was deep upon us. This is the place where we had inquired about the road on our way out.

We were resting for a little to feed the horses, when suddenly six or seven officials made their appearance and came forward to greet me. I asked who they were, and they informed me that they were from Kan-sung, T’ong-ch’un and Hyup-gok sent by Ch’oi Rip, An Kyung-yong and Han Kyung-hong. They had heard of my going back by direct route to Seoul, and in their disappointment had sent letters and expressions of regret by these men, as well as refreshments to cheer me.

Among them was a special letter from Han Kyung-hong which said. “The Elders of the country of Hyup-gok, grateful for all your many favours, had prepared food and wine and made straight the way. Hearing, however, that you were returning direct to Seoul, greatly disappointed and distressed, they have dispersed.”

The reason for this kind thought on their part was that in the year kyung-ja (1600), when I was Minister of Finance, I had done a small favour in their behalf. The people of Hyup-gok had memorialized the State asking that their taxes be lessened. I felt sympathy for them, as their county had fallen somewhat in the scale of prosperity, and so passed their request on to the King. This was the reason of their gratitude. These old men, with worn caps and white hair, had come all the way to bring their offerings of food and wine, a grateful gift that gladdened my heart. I had the wine and other things carried along so that I could enjoy them in the hills.

Leaving my chair at the magistrate’s office at Sin-an I took two specially good horses for exchanges on my hasty journey. Only three persons accompanied me, Han Moo-soi the musician, one secretary, Chang Eung-sun, and my artist, Pyo Eung-hyun.

Thirty li from Sin-an we reached T’ong-koo, when the sun was just nicely up. It was a most secluded place with the charming surroundings of hill and valley. From here the road winds on through thick woods and along steep defiles. In some places we had to cut the grass and shrubs that blocked the way, till finally we reached the Hair-cut Pass. Here, all of a sudden, a wonderful view of the horns and peaks of the Diamond Mountains met us. My hair stood on end and I felt a creepy sensation pass over my body. The saying is that once upon a time a certain king came this way and being so impressed with the view he had his hair cut and joined the brotherhood of priests, hence comes its name, Hair-cut Pass (Tan-pal Yung).

From Sin-an to this point is a hundred li, hills, range on range, and wall on wall, blocking the way. Now that I was in full view of the object of my journey how strange it seemed.

When we had crossed the Chin Hill and passed a river flat, we reached the valley of Chang-an along which the water rashes fresh and clear, the hills about, different, seemingly, from the ordinary haunts of men. This stream in its marvellous course comes down through the Myriad Cascade Gorge. We crossed it nine times and finally reached the temple. I called on Moo-soi to play me a tune as we rode along the avenue of approach.

An old priest met us and showed me into the Hall of Meditation.

“Whence come these honoured guests?” asked he.

I did not answer him directly but said, “I am a literary man from Seoul. Are there any other guests here?”

He said, A few days ago several gentlemen came announcing that the Minister of Ceremony would stop on his way from Ham-heung. They waited for a time, but learning that he had returned direct to the Capital, they left.

Hearing this, I smiled.

We had ‘wine’ brought that quenched our thirst and then we turned in and rested for a time.

The priests, inquiring of the runners from the post-stations, as to who this was, found out my name. At once they all came to make their most profound bow, saying, “We have made a most unpardonable mistake. But we really cannot understand by what way Your Excellency has come.” I then told them, fully of our midnight trip. They said in reply, “But the road from here to Hoi-yang is a two day’s journey, and you have made it in one.

As we were talking, a young priest came hurrying up to say that guests had arrived.

I asked who they were and he said, “The Vice-governor of Kang-wan, and the Keeper of the Royal Stables from Eun- ke. They are now in the upper monastery of Pyo-hoon some five li from here.”

I called the lad and told him to go at once and say that I had arrived. It was then about the first watch of the night

The Vice-governor was Yoon Kil, and the Keeper of the Stables, Yi Yu-keun. Along with them was No Sung, Guardian of the Chip-kyung Palace. They had waited for me at Hyup-gok, but hearing that I had gone direct to Seoul, had decided to see the Hills for themselves.

Finding out from the priest how matters stood, they gave a great shout of surprise, thoroughly mystified, and came tumbling over each other all the way to Chang-an-sa. They bowed and asked, “Did Your Excellency come by way of the starry sky?” They then inquired as to my health and safe arrival. I opened our supplies and had something prepared for them to eat, while they asked further about the journey. They remarked regarding the fare, “This is very good indeed but there is abundance ready at each place specially for you, why dine off these cold things?”

In a little others came from other counties with quantities of good things for my health and comfort and so the night passed.

The fast fading moon had risen in the east. Under the influence of ‘wine,’ I went out and sat in the Moonlight Pavilion. The night was silent, and soft shadows filled the valley. As I looked up the mountain peaks stood white in the distance leaning over us. To the north was Kwan-eum, next Chi-jang, next Po-hyun.

We slept in the east room, where was also a priest named Tam-yoo, over 80 years of age. His eyes sparkled with peculiar light, and his eye-brows stood out white as over the luminaries of the genii. He told me all about the past history of the temple.

The following day, early in the morning, I got up, dressed, walked out and climbed the hill back of the Main Hall. The peaks in front of me glistened in my sight like gems. I wondered if snow had fallen, but looking more carefully I saw it was only the rocks.

Hastening through my morning meal, and carrying a light load, I rode a chair up through the gorge of the Ten Kings. Great boulders locked and barred the way. A few diminutive bamboos were seen, while pines and cypress grew about the pools and rushing water. One peak to the north shot up its form so far toward heaven that we could scarcely glimpse it. This was Chi-jang that I had seen in the night.

Passing one defile we would come to another, and beyond one gorge still another would await us. In each was a rushing stream, falls and pools.

We rested for a time at Mi-ta Temple and then descended to the Myung-yun Tam.

From here on, the way is full of dangerous defiles over which flimsy bridges have been thrown. We left the chair and, with staff in hand, made our precarious way step by step clinging to the rocks and jumping over rapids. The streams fought furiously in their narrow courses, and when a rock blocked the way would leap forward in a fall. The hollow basin underneath becomes the pool. These pools are called by various names, Alms-bowl (Pal-tam), Fire Dragon (Wha-ryong), Black Dragon, (Heuk Ryong), Blue Clouds (Pyukha), etc.

The gorge itself is called Myriad Cascade, or Man-p’ok Tong.

Its course is a great cleft driven through the rocks. By this time I was tired almost to death, and so found a flat rock on which to sit down. Here the Secretary brought us ‘wine’ and refreshments and passed them round. On a stone near by are the characters of Yang Pong-nai:


Pong-nai (蓬萊) Foong-ak (楓岳) Wun-wha (元和) Tong- ch’un ().


Each stroke is as large as the leg of a mountain deer. To our left was the Diamond Peak (Keum-kang Tai), on the top of which among the stonee were the nests of the heron, empty however. The priest said to us, “These birds frequently come, but after circling about, cry plaintively and then go away.” Their feathers are blue and their heads red.

I called Moo-soi and had him, unknown to the others, climb to a ledge of Hyang-no Peak, hide in the pines and play to us. He played a soft quavering tune that sounded very sweet as though it came from the 9th heaven. The assembled guests looked at each other in wonder, listened and said, “Does Your Excellency hear it?”

I made as though I heard nothing, so they all kept perfectly still and said, “This is wonderful; the music of the upper spheres. Tradition holds that the fairies used to live here and now we hear them play.”

The sound was especially sweet and clear and it did really seem to come from the clouds. As the wind blew it would cease and then be heard again. I knew what it was, and yet I was inclined, nevertheless, to think the fairies were playing. After some time, the group finally learning how it had come about, clapped their hands and laughed, saying, “Most interesting, Ha, ha!”

We were all made glad by the ‘wine’ and enjoyed ourselves till the day began to draw toward a close. Then we followed the stream back and when the shades of night had fallen arrived at Pyo-hoon-sa.

There is a stone by the gate of this monastery that was erected in the 4th year of Chi-wun (1338 A.D.). The composition is by Yang Chai, and the writing by a Minister of Koryu, Kwun Han-kong. It tells how Yung Chong, Emperor or the Mongols, had on his heart the future blessing of all mankind and gave money for this temple’s erection. Now the Mongol court was very ardently Buddhistic, so that Imperial orders frequently made note of prayers and gifts. For this reason temples were set up in many of the hills of Korea, this one being the largest of them all. It fell a victim to the war of Im-jin (1592) and was burned down. Since then the priests have restored it but the final touches are not yet given.

At night we again drank to express our joy.

The day following we arose early and went up to Chung-yang-sa. This temple stands on the face of the hill with a steep road leading to it. Part of the time I rode, and part of time I went by staff. We were a long procession like fish on a willow string.

To the west of the temple is a pavilion called Chin-heul Tai with great trees standing on each side of it. The breeze awoke and the cool air refreshed our very bones. We sat long, drank several glasses of ‘wine,’ and then descended to the temple. It was vacant, no one apparently being in charge. The pavilion to the west offers the finest view of the Diamond Mountains. We had the place swept out, spread our mats and looked off over the railing where we could see clearly all those peaks that we had only glimpsed before.

One old priest said, “Because this hill is related to the sea it has many clouds and mists resting upon it, as well as gossamer webs and curtains of uncertainty. Sometimes sightseers wait ten days at a time without once seeing the shadow of a single peak. But now the rains have ceased and the hills are clear as a mirrior, with not an atom of dust on the whole horizon. It offers its most wonderful display to Your Excellency. Its fair prospect is one that every soul must long to see. The autumn trees, too, are intoxicated with colour, not too deep in shade, nor too shallow, but just as though freshly dyed. Such an opportunity as this is afforded to but few. Your Excellency is assuredly heir to unmixed blessing.”

The old priest then came and sat down by me and pointed out the various peaks saying, “Yonder, that one to the northeast, standing highest of all, is Piro Pong; yonder sharp one that stands alone is Hyul-mang; that one with two horns, that seems to hold up the firmament, is Hyang-no; that wonderful rock, that must have been split in two by the spirits, is Keum-kang Tai. Yonder one that circles about and gathers in all the atmospheric influences is Choong-hyang.” Besides these there were others that looked like flying phoenixes, leaping dragons, seated tigers, fighting whales. Some of them are jumping, some running, some bowing reverently as at audience.

We went from here northwards up to the ridge of the hills and reached a temple called Kai-sim (Opening the heart). Its site is a little higher than that of Chung-yang, and most retired.

Passing Ch’un-tuk (Heaven’s Virtue), and Wun-t’ong (Rounded Temple) we came to Mahayun which, for perfection of setting, ranks first of all. The Incense Walls (Choong- hyang) enclose the north so as to guard its rear. On each side are red-wood trees, pines, cypress, cedar, of useless trees there seemed to be none. No birds are here, no winged creatures of any kind, no four-footed beasts. The priest said to us, “Between the Incense Walls and the temple there are no bugs, or reptiles, or earthworms, or any obnoxious creatures whatever.”

We met a priest here undergoing a course of meditation, who ate only herbs, a very spiritual person he seemed to be, and one exceedingly loveable.

We noticed a peculiar tree in front of the temple that had leaves like the sea-pine and bark like the cassia. They called it the ke-soo tree. Breaking off a little of the bark and tasting it, I found it peppery, but it was not specially sweet, a very interesting tree indeed.         

Another day having dawned we all dressed and went, to pay a visit to Pool-chi Am and Myo-kil Sang. Arriving we found the place such a delight that we hated to leave it. How inviting this meditative life seemed with its deliverance from the noisy world. I walked back and forth in front of the great image. There was a spring of water in a hollow near by, that came bubbling forth. I tasted of it, and it was as sweet as sugared soy. We slept the night with the priests of Mahayun. Amid the darkness we could see the lights of other temples like fireflies. The Great Dipper too, seemed so near that I could almost put my hand out and pluck it from the sky.

Next day we set out for Po-tuk Cave by a way along the Incense Walls. Past the upper waters of the Fire Dragon we followed a path that led among the clouds. Where the road failed, logs were placed over chasms. We counted forty and more of these till finally on the left hand, we saw a temple of a few kan sitting on the rocks with two brazen pillars underneath it It was a hundred kil or so high and had a half kan projecting over the abyss. In it was an image of Kwannon. There were two chains holding it, one fastened to a pillar, and one round the house riveted to the rocks. The temple itself hangs seemingly in mid air. When the wind blows you might think it would fall but it does not. Such a place however seemed too dangerous to stay long in.

We went up to Po-tuk Outlook, poured out ‘wine’ and had a drink. Looking from here we beheld a white cloud rise from the Fire-Dragon Pool like a whiff of smoke from a brazier. It rose and then flattened out like a mat. In a little, each different pool sent up its cloud of silk that opened out so gracefully. These caught by the currents of air raced about, sometimes uniting, sometimes separating till they filled all the valley with the whitest curtain of snow that you ever saw. Looking down, the servants who accompanied me were lost in wonder. We could hear people’s voices through the mist but could see no one.

As we moved along we were bathed in the full light of the sun while the world beneath our feet was dark as the regions of chaos. Assuredly it was a sight to see.

We passed various rocks and gorges filled with wonder, till my legs grew tired. Then I got into my chair and rode, and by evening arrived once more at Pyo-hoon where we slept.

Many representatives from the different district towns had gathered with ‘wine’ and refreshments to greet me and wish me well on my way. I was terribly fatigued and so after a glass or two retired to my room and slept.

On the 30th we put our baggage in order, left Pyo-hoon-sa for Chang-an and from here passed out of the mountain gate. The murmur of the stream seemed full of sadness and spoke our regrets at parting.

Wherever I went I aways had my musician ride ahead so that when I rested, or waited, he would play for me. By noon we had reached Tan-pal Yung (Hair Cut pass.) The Governor of the Province, Yi Kwang-choon, anxious to see me, had come hurrying along a hundred li or more so that we met on the Pass. Here we sat on the grass and talked of days gone by. His son Yi Min-whan had come along with him. Wine was brought and we drank a glass or two and then separated. By evening we had reached T’ong-koo where we slept, and from here on we made our way back to Seoul.