To the Birds Allotted the Sky
SCENE 04 EXILE OF A PARIAH
HANEUL tells BAI, a quiet shy young man who has been treated
as a pariah and the offspring of a demon, to go to the
Chinese court (the oldest Korean son is a guest/hostage) ??
19 years later.
Ye ministers accomplish naught but
stare, beetle-browed in feeble
contemplation, at scrolls of law
and decorum! Fat and slothful
creatures who fret much, yet with
little done. Think you I know not
councils of war lull aged eyelids
Inform me of the proper course for
Is it not said, “To cover the eyes
and snatch at swallows is to fool
O king, inauspicious signs have
revealed themselves, of black
clouds, turbid mists on a summer
day. And the seer dreamt of a
resplendent jade sent from the
heavens fallen into mire.
Truly? Be this specious uttering
only? I of a surety place faith in
the gods; yet I suspect timidity on
your parts. But silence on this
I answer to the order of the king.
Ever a cloud ov??rhangs his brow at
the sight of me, gloom darkness
hovering about his head.
For near twenty years of
upbringing, I have received but
scanty expression of gratitude.
My lord, I am content to grind ink
and wash the slabs if such labor be
in your service.
This I know: rolling vapors lie
floating beneath the lofty aureole
of serenity surrounding the
Like the mother, of steadfast gaze,
radiant gold eyes as glittering
blades with incisive stroke,
keen-fanged hounds of the hunt
tearing flesh–snowflakes like
pear-blossoms shed with every step.
If so, the sire frowning stern,
allow me in evanescence to wane
from sight, and haunt as a phantom
where shadows roam.
In clemency I have indulged
unavailing, indolent pursuits of
your choosing; dilatory, fond of
leisure and ease, no aimed
I beg forgiveness for having
angered your majesty; how may I
bring about conciliation?–for to
have displeased you is to have
liver and gall torn from within.
The Emperor of _________ has
commanded that my eldest son be
sent to his empire as a guest in
all affluence and honors for an
If you pretend not to sluggish
intellect, lucidly fathom the
I am cognizant of the gist–to be
an opulent puppet-hostage in a
Have I no duties to bind me to the
Heaven treads down difficulties.
Your meager contributions, fit only
for tomb guardians or a reciter of
poems, I miss no more than a
flourishing tree a single leaf, a
millet of grain from a prosperous
granary. What I have viewed as an
evil may be a means of deliverance
from it, removing the blight of
Common birds understand the flight
of cranes. I do with alacrity as
you command, O king.
In plaintive melody I have mourned
the unceasing disfavoring eye my
father has cast upon me, as a sheet
of ice draped on rock and ridge.?
Could I, who in vain clasp statues
of cold stone, only blot out
utterly the heated remembrance,
uproot with complete destruction!
Yet I remain blunt in resolve,
unhappy beset each night, full of
gall and bitterness. ?
SCENE 05 “IN WHOM I AM WELL PLEASED” — GOD (IN THE BIBLE)
2nd son SUK, a brave warrior, is the darling of HANEUL.
HANEUL demonstrates his fondness, emphasizes the role he
will play in the rise of the kingdom.
HANEUL paces anxiously, expecting SUK at any moment.
You return, and the days allotted
by heaven to me, come with you.
Father, whose valor frightens
rushing streams, makes high
mountains fall, you speak of?
guarding borders as a recital of
Tell me all; expurgate nothing.
SUK relates to HANEUL his experiences on the Chinese-Korean
border as a spy.
Father, the inexorable face of the
_____ Empire grows increasingly
Aye, some like reeds and rushes
thick the populace lines roads to
hail the Emperor, but more a column
of dust rising up to hide the face
of the sun. More commotion and
delight in festivities, this
praise. Not so steady as mountains
is this overlong occupation of the
Indeed, this aggregate of divisions
cannot long remain tenacious, for
memorial of their cumbersome
passage on all subjects lies heavy.
My son Suk, fondly I look to the
coming time sovereignty decks your
brow, and you sit crowned on a
throne independent of any foreign
imperial power–for when this
moment occurs, I will abdicate in
SCENE 06 SALTED AND EMBALMED REMNANT
SUN HI, a timid, lovely young girl of a high-standing
family, is engaged to be married to SUK, but she loves BAI
(who loves her as a sister). They bid each other farewell.
The king commands that my labors
here conclude, and in bounden duty
O, scattering clouds fleet, and how
BAI absently picks a flower.
Departure mayhap abate the ravings
of serpents hissing with cloven
tongues, curled around many a
These hearsay mongers amplify their
speech with empty falsehoods, witty
malice studious to defame,
spreading as spilt crimson wine on
BAI covers his hand, then lets SUN HI peek. Instead of the
flower stalk on his palm, a tiny gleaming green snake curls
around his fingers. It lowers its head to SUN HI and hisses
Perhaps. In the suspect human
frailty of mine, I cannot unmoved
as death remain. Yet, as the sun
slopes and autumn’s reddened leaves
eddy to ground, am I to fall at the
first roll of drums?
Two maids hurry up to ask them if anything is needed. BAI
closes his hand, then opens it to reveal a flower stalk. He
lightly asks the maidservants to dispose of it.
The sounds speak of impermanence,
the vanity of human projects. Pray
weary yourself not with them.
To prosecute this enterprise of
entering the mysterious unknown, I
ought, as my brother Suk would,
“seize the tiger’s whelps by going
into her den.”
In such a course, retribution’s
dread avenging hand would come
without fail, the banners of an
endless host filling the horizon,
swords as trees in the forest.
The king strengthens Suk as lips
protect teeth. Would that I could
obtain so exalted a place in the
I fear for the honorable Suk, and
dare not rely on the feeble props
But, let us say these farewells no
more. Dear sister Sun Hi, like a
heavenly maiden in flower-bedecked,
fairy clothes fluttering in the
wind, and coiffure a cumulus! You
have that in your countenance I
would fain call mistress!
The unwitting seek to open a
fragile persimmon with thrown
Recall me to mind in times of
Assuredly remembrance never will
leave his post in drunken absence.
I lie weeping, heart-smitten at
this prize, of jade leaf on a
golden branch, wrenched from my
… my shelter a precipice.
SCENE 07 SERPENT COILED ON THE DRAGON THRONE
BAI meets Chinese Emperor SHOU SHAN, an kindly, scholarly
older man, a figurehead for the powerful Prime Minister JIAN
GUO and his minions.
The emperor and his court welcome
you to this fair cloud dwelling.
I have presumed to find suitable
quarters and hospitable
entertainment, Prince Bai. In
proper order of precedence, may it
please Prince Bai to seat himself
And so the sage bearded Dragon of
the Imperial Throne, whose days of
glory have not looked on night …
just yesterday he presided over the
celebration of the Moon Festival,
This Son of Heaven’s affairs are as
raveled hemp, without end, yet each
strand the width of a hair.
Who am I to say, who store my mouth
with speeches smoothly filed?
… The foremost minister JIAN GUO
attends to our emperor as a filial?
son, nay, as he cares for his own
Enter JIAN GUO. SERVANT 1 bows and exits.
Greetings to you, Prince Bai of
________. I trust your stay to be
one of merit to your kingdom and
ours. Though doubtless you long for
familiar surroundings, know that
greatness abounds in sacrifice.
Mere dastard cowardice utters
sounds of complaint when mischance
The _____ Prime Minister looks upon
me as when lions glare battle.
–for truly this great empire
wishes only peace with her, at
times, unruly children.
In his voice and in King Haneul’s
as an echo I hear the naves of
heavy-laden axles creak, the clash
of brass-rimmed shields.
Exit JIAN GUO. Enter SHOU SHAN.
Welcome, son Bai.
Humbly I thank my gracious
sovereign for this kind reception
and abiding of this unworthy
bond-slave. Such a gesture
refulgent shines of undeserved
Such grateful notes do not prolong,
for they sound discord between
thought and speech. You speak well,
but mouth only wind.
Even a reproach ranks to me a
privilege from heaven.
Come now, give some token of
intelligence. Let the ether of
sense diffuse common light. Think
you I hide a serpent in the waving
grass? Ah, your bulwarks stand
high. We shall speak of other
SCENE 08 SMOKE, QUIVERING SISTER OF FIRE
INT. EMPRESS’S CHAMBERS. DAY.
BAI meets Chinese Empress XIU LAN, a high-spirited saucy
young woman who frets in the bindings of etiquette and
Enriched with the spoils of costly
stuff from felled kingdoms, I but
chew wax (devoid of zest).
Happiness betide the Shining
Phoenix! High Empress, a
fresh-blown rose glimmering with
heavenly dew. As the moon in its
full brightness outshines the
stars, so you shame mortals of
Yet, is not the moon but a
reflection of greater stars? And
from whom do I seek light?
The Emperor, the Great Consort, the
Dissemble not, careful Bai of no
impetuous tongue. Climb you the
great fastness of mountains, plumb
inscrutable depths of waters? Or
exist as a broken halberd buried in
arid sand, with deep rust eaten?
Dare I fan a blaze directed to the
heavens? Did I so, clamor would
echo to the skies. Nay, the
consecrated smoke ascends to divine
inspiration and whorls ever elusive
and beyond my grasp.
You totter as a man without limbs!
Forgive me; I fear penetration of
the wind to bone. In the palace one
lives in the tiger?? mouth.
Appear I a monster whom none may
look on and retain breath of life?
A venial error. Very well; let us
speak of other matters.
Gentle lady, surely you transport
in dove-drawn carriage.
Have horses grazed this meadow, or
remains it uncut?
I humbly beg your majesty?? pardon
… I am but a fallow youth …
Then, as satin petals falling in
the tide of vernal spring, without
an admirer to behold their rich and
depth of hue = imperial lineage,
Indeed, to bask in unreproved
pleasures, have the freedom of bees
who flit from one rooted flower to
Taste I the frothy remnants of love
once heady with innocence but no
longer? Come now, be not
spendthrift of tongue when mutinous
winds rage within. I would fain
ride upon the surges, quaff with
zest the fermented waters of life.
I beheld a girdle of dragons
interlaced with flowers. Lovely,
and to be feared.
SCENE 10 STARS CLUSTER THICK
HANEUL speaks with the other two Korean kingdoms on
overthrowing the Chinese yoke ??there is consent with one
(3RD KING), disagreement with the other (ISEUL). Someone
brings up the point that HANEUL’s oldest son, a hostage at
the Chinese court, will surely be killed. HANEUL replies
that sacrifices must be made.
We must with all speed marshal a
mighty martial host such as to
shiver ocean trident and convulse
the earth. Are we to cringe to each
passing ruler of the day? What
affliction more grievous exists,
than to impose an aged leaden hand
stifling to a nation proud in its
youth and ability? Come, let us
despoil this tyrannical scepter,
and harrow by agonies incalculable
past injury done us. What clamorous
remonstrance sought and failed to
achieve, we will capture!
But surely the ______ shall then
clamor for the execution of our
surety, his highness Prince Bai.
At any time the treacherous
________ would avail themselves of
the while to defraud and destroy.
Though a father, for the sake of
our glorious country, I am willing
to commit the sacrifice. What,
then, have you all to say? Don you
the Buddhist dress and toss
joss-sticks, scatter and flee in
base ignominy? Or be of fixed
determination and fight for
Aye, I hold absurd and perverse any
design to the contrary of war.
With strict restraint, not extolled
speech, I regrettably withhold
consent to join my kingdom to this
cause. The people under my rule
implore me for peace and
prosperity, and such will not come
from the consequences of the day.
Do you think us an army of paper
tigers? You presume much on former
How dares this man, not full noble
born, address the gathering?
Reckless and rude, insolence
He speaks as the king’s voice.
I am not enamored of conflict,
delighting to march in bright
crests and blazrony. What begets
the toils of battle but bitter
fruit? Rather would I behold the
bounteous soil with luxuriant
Then, suggest you that we labor
forever under a foreign burden,
gleaning for others what we have
produced? Our heroism will envelop
the enemies like clouds the sky in
Before the vehemence of high
spirits irrepressible, how am I to
frame with care my words to
These warmongers, “even as a man
who steps into a deep pool bearing
a stone in his arms.”
In a cangue, perhaps. Proclaim the
truth, that your youth houses a
heart of caitiff cowardice!
So you prick your reasons at a
weapon’s end. “If righteousness be
lacking then are wealth and honor
but as a floating cloud.”
I am afraid. Caught between the
wolf and the tiger, I fear the
limits of a growing ambition closer
to me than a sedate condescension
distant. Where will he turn in
search of fresh conquest for near
SCENE 15 AN EFFIGY OF BOUGHS AND GRASS
SHOU SHAN speaks with XIU LAN and BAI ??BAI is to take his
place in the marital bed with XIU LAN ??BAI reluctantly
My dear ones, firstly know I speak
wisdom in fondness.
My lord, what would you say to us?
Of a certainty we hear and obey.
Commit not so quickly yourselves to
the task, though perhaps your
hearts will not so mind.
Do we tread the ooze of salty
depths, that so hesitantly we go
Hasty Xiu Lan! The case may be as
the maple tree made to gape and the
syrup poured out–then the sap
cannot return to the mother’s
I ought not to prevaricate longer:
Xiu Lan, you have realized I cannot
father a son, not by any woman.
Therefore, Bai, who is as my
dearest blood child, and my lively
sister wife Xiu Lan, I ask the both
of you to remedy my deficiency
through your actions together.
The times grow dire for us, my
children. A son must be begot to
stem the rising tide of discontent
and rebellion, and it seems the
Heavens have deemed me unworthy as
the father, a man of years past
My lord emperor, I … I know not
what to utter in response.
Well I know I have pegged the both
of you in knotty entrails difficult
to escape. Pray forgive me for the
necessity. Ere this moment, our
companionship remained undefiled by
dregs terrene, but presently
teeters on the edge of a precipice.
If all is as you say, and I know it
to be true from maids’ gossip and
the like, then indeed we must act.
If truly no other recourse exists,
I beg forgiveness for the
transgression, and …
And in the knowledge of Bai as sire
of the child, I rest easy. Xiu Lan
the mother … that thought gives
me some just cause for worry, but I
take care not to choose in too?
particular a fashion.
SHOU SHAN, BAI, and XIU LAN laugh a little, uneasily.
SCENE 16 A DOVE STEALS FROM THE MAGPIE’S NEST
XIU Lan and BAI sleep together.
INT. Bedchamber. Night.
Hear you the strains of music? And
the words decorating the wall?
Pray it not be a threnody or
inscriptions on a tomb. I am
nine-tenths a corpse, my lady,
though you shine a gleaming pearl
in the darkness.
Strange to say, this mild
disposition of yours I feel within
tonight. In truth I cannot contrive
We have eaten of our lord’s bounty,
and fear to continue in his
absence. Empress–Xiu Lan, ere this
moment I acted always to curb and
repress. What do I now?
Of ever hasty temperament, despite
flirtatious speech I have kept
dutiful chastity; now with somber
words I am to engage in ardent
action. Yet this comes not to whet
insatiable appetite, but in
exercise of princely virtue. Let us
cease these plaintive melody and
I doubt a complete abstinence from
distress attainable. But you are in
XIU LAN settles on the bed.
Where love guards the gate, freely
SCENE 17 A FASTENING GIVES WAY
Prime Minister JIAN GUO monologue on himself.
Fools call me the image of a wild
beast, possessed of the malady
attached to tyranny, but I know
myself of great shape and mighty
mold. No lord of brief span am I,
changing time shall not cleft the
power of my repute, who ride on the
winds of outstanding eminence.
Tempests may enraged rebound from?
the stalwart rocks set amidst the
frenzied sea, buffets of surge.
Yes, in defiance of anserine legal
procedure I proceed, that this
doddard of an emperor make way for
better men than he. Do not we all
serve in offices of profit to us,
and do I no more than demonstrate
that for which the zeitgeist calls?
SCENE 19 A MOON SO BRIGHT AS DAY
SUN HI longs for BAI even as she waits for SUK in the bridal
I have become as shattered tile,
lying prostrate. Fleetness of foot
no avail, irreconcilable to this
circumstance, I must become
complaisant to my liege lord.
SCENE 22 SOFT BREEZE THE GROVES WITH MURMUR FILL
Unhappy in her marriage, SUN HI opens BAI’s letters, which
she has not dared to look at until now. She begins to weep.
SUK, who genuinely cares for his emotionally fragile wife,
asks what is wrong. SUN HI reveals that she is pregnant.
Hurled out from the refuge of my
desolate solitary crag, a forgotten
wisp in storm-tossed strife and the
sport of sovereign winds, I now
forlorn roam the hallowed abode of
the Son of Heaven.
What a timorous wretch am I, gnawed
to the heart at his recital of
afflictions, though with overdrawn
words my beloved lightly jests at
Within this divine allotment of
precious stone and metal,
finest-woven vestments, and more
such fancifully wrought work as man
can skillfully coax from dead
matter, I a poor rustic, traverse
unplowed fields in unseen sights
and unimagined realities. The
rustling of eunuchs passing,
courtiers going about their
business, and the clanking of
guards din as the snorting of farm
animals but newly acquired and so
But, dear sister Sun Hi, be of iron
heart; weep not for my sorrows! The
composition of mild remedies
condoles accordingly with my
Bai makes no mention of having
sated his heart, and well I know it
as no easy prize.
And what of this fair maiden,
yourself, enthralled unhappy in the
hardship of existence? When last I
beheld Sun Hi, to my dull senses as
the bright blush of the peach,
gentle green of the willow, she
quietly wilted as a lily on a tomb.
Too late I feared a blundered
culling of blooming flowers, an
ambrosial plate of vibrant fruit
defiled with smoke–that you were
to wed a savage ruffian in
sufferance of filial piety. A
boonless spectator of suffering, I
make but a faint-hearted friend,
though dearly wish to stand
Fearful mists of tears dart over
mine eyes. Though knowing by rote
proper action, and shrinking from
dereliction of duty, I floundered,
irresolute. Gladly would I have
forfeited favor and reputation for
a mere sign, yet you remained only
affable and courteous. And my
father, a powerful minister in high
standing, decried you as a pallid
imitation of shades, tracing steps
already taken by better men.
Yet I heard good tidings to ease
this dread. Now in connubial
relation you are joined to
honorable Prince Suk, the chosen
vessel in whom King Haneul pours
his ambition with abundance. Great
happiness, many children, and long
life to you!
Where am I to find solace, when I
must bitterly lament and
despondently sigh over the loss of
a marvelous recluse and blockhead!
She begins to weep. Enter SUK.
Dear wife, what is the matter?
Oh, account these foolish tears to
a woman’s frailty when with child.
SUK’s face lights up in joy.
SCENE 27 FLOWER HAS FRAGRANCE, MOON HAS GLOW
Informed by a maid of the Korean rebellion, SUN HI runs to
SUK and demands to know everything. SUK complies, surprised
by her sudden interest where before she had professed
nothing of the sort. Terrified at the thought of BAI’s fate,
SUN HI collapses and goes into early labor.
A maid combs SUN HI’s long hair into the proper knot.
Why so silent, girl? Has a young
man clipped your wings of wit with
his imprisoning love?
Oh, mistress, no such thing. I
ponder the monetary strain on my
Now? What of now?
A war has begun, mistress, which
will surely straiten purses and
SUN HI starts violently and turns.
Not that much talked-of revolt
against the Chinese?
That very one.
I thought it only the sound of
thunder rolling over the skies,
without lightning to strike!
SUN HI rises quickly and runs out of the room to find SUK.
Distressed, the maid runs after her.
My lady–have a care–the child–!
SUK pores over his maps and strategy manuals in his study as
SUN HI enters. He smiles distractedly in welcome, but soon
sobers when he sees her closely.
My dear, what brings you here in
Did you think I drift on clouds
oblivion? How can you countenance
any attack on the Chinese, when
they have your brother in their
Worry not for him. I have ordered
that matter cared for. Bai will be
Why care you so for his fate? I had
not realized him so dear to you.
Our efforts will be as dust against
a storm, bees stinging a turtle in
I see you of the doves and not the
court hawks, wife. My father and I
are not of this mind, however.
I fear we bring upon ourselves such
rage as to carve up generations of
achievements, much like the
filleting of a fish.
SCENE 30 A TUMULUS OF YELLOW EARTH
BAI monologue, muses on his life as he runs to Japan.
Deftly woven in the woof of life
are all creatures, yet am I of a
stray thread escaping the dress?
Behold, the sun setting, in dark
relief against a glowing sky. To
put off today and postpone tomorrow
is only a misguided course. Now in
the grip of that which levels
mountains and turns rivers, I
cannot return lest I be ground to
powder. After a full term of
journeying, shall I come to the
home I seek?
Winnie Khaw (2012)
Winnie Khaw is an aspiring writer who hopes to be a successful published author in the near future. She is fascinated by (East) Asian and (Western European) culture, history, and literature.