Spotlight on Korean Poets: Yun Dong-Ju

Spotlight on Korean Poets: Yun Dong-Ju

People are what build a nation, of them there are those who are remembered for a number of things, whether it be for their work in fighting for resistance or paving the path for generations to come.  Yun Dong-Ju is one of those mentioned names when looking back at Korean history. While he himself had not done much physical work as an activist, his writings will forever express the pain of the country during the Japanese Forced Occupation period. The Korean poet, Yun Dong-Ju, is considered one of the nation’s most famous poets, and his work still resonates with readers today.

Life of A Poet

In order to recognize the impact his life experiences had on him, a very brief history of the time period will be mentioned. Born in 1917, Yun Dong-Ju was born in Longjing, Jilin, China and moved to Pyongyang, Korea when he was attending middle school. During his life, Japan had control of the Korean peninsula from 1910 to 1945, the end of World War II. This occupation inspired many of  Yun Dong-Ju’s writings throughout his life, such as Self-Portrait or Night of Counting Stars.

He attended university at Yonhi College, later renamed Yonsei University, and went to Japan to study in the English literature department. A few months after transferring to Kyoto, he was arrested and later sentenced to two years for working with the Korean independence movement. He died of unknown causes in Fukuoka, Japan in 1945 at the age of 28.

After his death, Yun Dong Ju’s first book of poems entitled “Sky, Wind, Star, and Poems” (하늘과 바람과 별과 시) was compiled and published in 1948. As mentioned earlier, the Korean language was banned, so his works were only able to be published after the Japanese left. His friend was the one who compiled his poetry to be published. 

Remembering Yun Dong-Ju

If you’re ever in Korea, stop by the Yun Dong-Ju Literature House. This is a museum where visitors can view photographs and the original, handwritten manuscripts of his work. Different rooms within the building are meant to represent the different periods of his life. It’s located in Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea, open from Tuesday to Sunday from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., and is free! 

Shooting at the Moon, Yun Dong-Ju is a musical first performed back in 2012 which is the first interpretation of this poet's life and work. The interesting thing about this musical is that instead of remaking the poems into songs, they were spoken just as they had been written. Don’t worry though, there is still plenty of wonderful music to hear throughout!

In Dong-Ju: The Portrait of a Poet premiered in theaters all around Korea. The leading role of Yun Dong-Ju was given to the one and only Kang Ha-Neul. The resemblance between the two is uncanny! The movie depicts Dong-Ju’s life, imprisonment, and eventual death. This film is truly a masterpiece. 

For a remix on learning history about this poet, look no further than the variety show, Infinite Challenge. They had a three episode-long history special looking at different Korean historical figures through the centuries and creating hip-hop/rap songs inspired by them. Hwang Kwang-Hee, member of group ZE:A, and Gaeko team up, write, and perform a rap about Yun Dong-Ju with a special appearance from Hyuk-Oh. The song includes lines from Dong-Ju’s poem Night of Counting Stars. You can check out the full episodes on Kocowa and Viki. 

The influence of Yun Dong-Ju’s poems is reflected in the importance of remembering the culture and keeping it alive. No matter where you’re from in the world, there will be a piece of his writings that you can relate to. 

Have you ever heard of Yun Dong-Ju before? If so, what are poems of his that you like or resonate with you the most? If not, what did you find interesting?

Written by Avery Souders

Daebak Box

We bring Korea to you! Experience the best of Korean culture with Daebak Box