Hahm Dong-seon was born in 1930 in Yonbaek, Hwanghae Province. When Korea was partitioned, the plain of Yonbaek marked the northenmost part of South Korea, south actually of the 38th parallel; but when hostilities ceased at the end of the Korean War in 1953, Yonbaek found itself with Kaesong in North Korea.

Hahm Dong-seon did advanced study in Korean Literature at Chungang and Kyunghee Universities, completing his master's and doctorate. Subsequently he was on the faculty of Cheju University and Sorabol Art College and he ended up in the Creative Writing Department of Chungang University where he remained till he retired. Currently he is professor emeritus at Chungang University. He has been Chairman of the Korean Modern Poets Association and Vice式president of the Korean Writers Association; currently he is Vice式chairman of Korean PEN. He was awarded the Modern Poet's prise in 1979, the PEN Literature Prize in 1995, and the Republic of Korea Culture and Arts Prize in 1997.

Hahm Dong-seon made his debut in the pages of Hyondae Munhak in 1958. He has enjoyed a full career as poet, literary commentator and essayist, with a large number of publications to his credit. His poetry is a weave of the traditional on the one hand and of the clash between the modern and foreign cultural influences on the other. Firstly, he has made a significant contribution to the modern tradition in terms of self式reflection and identity, as reflected in his penchant for Korean emotion and native speech patterns. Secondly, he writes a realist poetry, representing material things objectively and searching for variety through the use of such techniques as the objective correlative. Thirdly, his poetry reflects the pain of history, the pain of those who have not been home to North Korea since the division of the country in 1950. Hahm Dong-seon sublimates his personal pain to the national level and demonstrates the will to overcome division.




Record of a Journey


When I go home,

especially when I go this route,

I get to see the calibrated measure

we used in the doorway to gauge our height

stretched now like a clothesline

propped with a clothesline pole.

From the speeding train

I see the bowed millet stalks come close;

I see the insects I blew into the air as a child.

I'm on my way to Pusan.

Sweat erases the lines, drawn on my palm,

of the dykes in the paddies at home;

Old Wart's look-out 式

we used to steal his melons 式 fades from the eye;

acrid sunlight replete with the saltiness of the sea

as if it were crossing shards of broken glass

brings a mist to the eyes.

Suddenly a summer shower strikes;

My face is reflected milkily in the carriage window;

mother's face is superimposed on mine;

the raindrops stream down mother? face.




My Brother is Always Thirty-four


The magpies

Flashed white bellies and bolted

startled by the sight of the cart

piled with rice式bags, bullet cases and wounded soldiers.

My brother 式 despite the bayonet prods of the

North Korean soldier urgent in retreat 式

bowed to the village shrine,

bowed and bowed again.

He never came back.

A day moon rolls overhead again today,

and we block our eats with the whirring of grass insects

as the temple retreats into the distance;

the family has just offered a ritual sacrifice 式

safe passage for his soul to heaven 式

the photofraph we used was scorched black

as if the film were overexposed.

Time rough as the bark of a tree

is as itchy as scabies on my face.

Summers throwing stones in the reservoir;

my brother is always there.

Always there

like the Yaesong River

remembering the war.




When the Dogwood Blooms


The dogwood's in bloom.

I'm a butterfly again.

searching for the one who lost her heart

to the tum tum tum of the drum.

All who knew her are gone.

The tender leaves grow big as a baby's hand:

That oval face 式 curved eyebrows,

cast down eyes, closed lips,

deep furrowed dimples 式

appears in the low draped clouds

and just as quickly withdraws,

to be buried again in the clouds.

The wind lives but never with fixed abode.

I open an old letter:.

"The hurt of missing is in distant places."

The phrase

reverberates with the tum, tum, tum of the drum.






The autumn sunlight crept a handspan through the window.

There was an old sofa on the opposite side of the room.

I hear the flip式flap of slippers.

Perhaps the wind blowing

the pine leaves

in Ch'usa's "Winterscape"

work me up:


The cuckoo's two o'clock song spills

from an unfinished cup of green tea

on the paint peeled table.


I read in my book poems:

"A  p'ansori melody

replete with autumn colors

trembles beyond the entrance to the village."

The wall leading out of the village

is lined with an array of cosmos in bloom,

the flowers progressively smaller.




Tunnel No.3



The legacy of the great powers

when they threw the owners out

and took over our living rooms, on the pretext

they were trying to stop the fighting,

they were on our side

lives on in history

as the armistice line the demilitarized zone.

Bullets that assailed our eardrums crushed the mountains

The tunnel 式 south式north;high式-low 式 stands there, edge up,

a knife point that boiled the river.

Silence creates its own terror

with every step taken.

It's dark at the far end;

the darkness seemingly drawn by a thick brush.

Bound like a string of corvina,

he is being taken north from the meeting house.


I crawl out of the tunnel:forty years

of refracted unease front my nose.

Sunlight seeps from my nose.

On the hill where I want to sit

I see the daisy fleabane 式 there

during the war when I peeped into the other world 式

they fill the eyes,

blooming with the sound of the funeral bier handbell.