Wishing not to have
so much as a speck of shame
toward heaven until the day I die,
I suffered, even when the wind stirred the leaves.
With my heart singing to the stars, 5
I shall love all things that are dying.
And I must walk the road
that has been given to me.
Tonight, again, the stars are
brushed by the wind 10
November 20, 1941
At the Window
I go to the window.
—Windows give living lessons.
Please build me a roaring fire.
Cold is settling into the room. 5
A single maple leaf seemed
perhaps from a small whirlwind.
Nevertheless, when the sun's rays shine brightly
on the cold windowpane, 10
I can tell the school bell is about to ring.
A Poem That Came Easily
The night rain whispers outside the window
of my six-mat room, in an alien country.
The poet has a sad vocation, I know:
should I write another line of poetry?
Having received my tuition from home in an envelope 5
soaked with the small of sweat and love,
I tuck my college notebook under my arm
and go off to listen to the lecture of an old professor.
Looking back, I see that I have lost my childhood friends:
one and two at a time—all of them. 10
What was it that I was hoping for,
and why am I simply sinking to the bottom alone?
Life is meant to be difficult:
it is too bad
that a poem comes so easily to me. 15
My six-mat room in an alien country:
The night rain whispers outside the window.
I light the lamp to drive out the darkness a little,
and I, in my last moments, wait for the morning,
which will come like a new era. 20
Extending a small hand to myself,
I offer myself the very first handshake,
tears, and condolences.
June 3, 1942
The Rose Fell Ill
The rose fell ill,
but there is no neighborhood
to move it to.
Should we send it up into the mountains
in a covered wagon all alone? 5
Should we send it out to sea,
to the mournful sound of a steamship horn?
Should we send it high up into the stratosphere
in an airplane, its propellers roaring?
Never mind all that. 10
Bury it instead in my heart
before my growing son
wakes from his dreams.
Yoon Dong-joo Biography
Yoon Dong-joo was born in Myong-dong Chon, a village in northern Manchuria on December 30, 1917, to a Korean family known for its strong patriotism and progressive thoughts. The paternal side of the family had moved to northern Manchuria in his great-grandfather's generation, and one of the uncles on the maternal side was a revered educator who established a school for children of Korean residents in Manchuria. It was in this school that young Yoon Dong-joo began his primary education. The school taught him Korean and history, among other subjects, and he was exposed to an intense sense of identity as a Korean and of patriotism for his country.
His interest and talent for writing became manifest early in his youth. As early as age twelve, he started publishing his rhymes and poems for children in a mimeographed magazine called "New Myong-dong" with the help of his childhood friend and cousin, Song Mong-kyu. Most of his childrens' poems were written during this time.
[By the time Yoon was in college he was] an avid reader and had an extensive library of some 800 volumes by the time he was a senior at Yon-hee [College]. He read poets such as Chong Ji-yong, Kim Young-nang, Lee Sang, and Seo Chong-joo, and was especially fond of the works of Kierkegaard, Dostoyevsky, Valery, Gide, Baudelaire, Jammes, Rilke, and Cocteau.
An important aspect of his days at Yon-hee College was his experience of living in various boarding houses in Seoul. His close friend and cousin, Song Mong-kyu, had been under suspicion of working for the resistance movement, and Yoon also was under surveillance, as he was closely associated with the Korean intellectuals who were engaged in the resistance. He had to move from boarding house to boarding house in order to elude harassment from the Japanese police.
In 1941, as a commemorative gesture for his graduation from college, Yoon compiled a collection of 19 poems with the title "Sky, Wind, Stars, and Poems." He intended to publish 77 copies and distribute them to his friends and relatives. But the project was postponed when his trusted professor, Lee Yang-ha, advised him to wait for a more opportune time, as some of his poems might not pass the censorship of the Japanese authorities. Yoon Dong-joo then made three copies by hand: one for Professor Lee Yang-ha, one for his closest friend and roommate, Chong Byong-wook, whose copy survives; and one for himself. These poems were never published in his lifetime.