The Grateful Ghost
It is often told that in the days of the Koryo Dynasty (A.D. 918-1392), when an examination was to be held, a certain scholar came from a far-distant part of the country to take part. Once on his journey the day was drawing to a close, and he found himself among the mountains. Suddenly he heard a sneezing from among the creepers and bushes by the roadside, but could see no one. Thinking it strange, he dismounted from his horse, went into the brake and listened. He heard it again, and it seemed to come from the roots of the creeper close beside him, so he ordered his servant to dig round it and see. He dug and found a dead man’s skull. It was full of earth, and the roots of the creeper had passed through the nostrils. The sneezing was caused by the annoyance felt by the spirit from having the nose so discommoded.
The candidate felt sorry, washed the skull in clean water, wrapped it in paper and reburied it in its former place on the hill-side. He also brought a table of food and offered sacrifice, and said a prayer.
That night, in a dream, a scholar came to him, an old man with white hair, who bowed, thanked him, and said, “On account of sin committed in a former life, I died out of season before I had fulfilled my days. My posterity, too, were all destroyed, my body crumbled back into the dust, my skull alone remaining, and that is what you found below the creeper. On account of the root passing through it the annoyance was great, and I could not help but sneeze. By good luck you and your kind heart, blessed of Heaven, took pity on me, buried me in a clean place and gave me food. Your kindness is greater than the mountains, and like the blessing that first brought me into life. Though my soul is by no means perfect, yet I long for some way by which to requite your favour, and so I have exercised my powers in your behalf. Your present journey is for the purpose of trying the official Examination, so I shall tell you beforehand what the form is to be, and the subject. It is to be of character groups of fives, in couplets; the rhyme sound is ‘pong,’ and the subject ‘Peaks and Spires of the Summer Clouds.’ I have already composed one for you, which, if you care to use it, will undoubtedly win you the first place. It is this–
‘The white sun rode high up in the heavens,
And the floating clouds formed a lofty peak;
The priest who saw them asked if there was a temple there,
And the crane lamented the fact that no pines were visible;
But the lightnings from the cloud were the flashings of the woodman’s axe,
And the muffled thunders were the bell calls of the holy temple.
Will any say that the hills do not move?
On the sunset breezes they sailed away.'”
After thus stating it, he bowed and took his departure.
The man, in wonder, awakened from his dream, came up to Seoul; and behold, the subject was as foretold by the spirit. He wrote what had been given him, and became first in the honours of the occasion.
– Korean Folk Tales, Imps, Ghosts and Faries by Im Bang & Yi Ryuk (Translated by James S. Gale) [Published 1913]