Hong Yun-suk was born in Cho¢¨ngju, Pyo¢¨nganbuk-do in 1925. Her first poems were published in 1947 and since then she has published many volumes of poetry and of essays, as well as a collection of poetic dramas. She has received many of Korea's top literary awards for her work. For much of her life she worked as a reporter for various newspapers and magazines.

Hong Yun-suk's poetry is often read alongside that of Kim Nam-jo, the two being considered the leading women writers of their generation; in addition, both are Catholic writers. Her vision of life is deeply affected by the suffering brought by the Korean War and the lasting division of Korea. Her poetic universe is often dark and inclined to pessimism. Perhaps the fact that she is unable to visit her native region in the North helps to explain the many images of life as an unending journey found in her work.

The themes of individual solitude and of the emptiness of modern life are expressed in many poems. When she tackles more public themes, the longing for the reunification of Korea dominates her concerns.




Camping Last Summer 1



Camping last summer

was a beautiful experience.


While my white vest moist with dew

was dyed by the juices of the emerald grass


with here and there a shy touch of pink

added from wild carnations,


we crossed various hills to sunrise and sunset,

singing something as we went.


The blood from a knee grazed in a fall

was dried like a flower then stowed in my knapsack


I washed our grubby today hard,

starched it too


and on the hillsides

the slopes of this world rain fell


so that our camping

was still soaked in some corner or other.




Missing person


Missing person:

aged twenty,

middling height,

the rosy knees, the fawn-like eyes

still the same as at birth,

swelling breast filled with azalea-hued love,

a basketful of sunlight poised on the head,

left home one day without a word.

Has no one seen this person

in the vagueness of thirty years's mist?

In any case, some time now

one such child,

may have fallen asleep, exhausted from wandering

the unfamiliar lanes of some twilight market,

empty basket laden with grey hairs and remorse.

Hoping for news. Address as follows:

Mail Box Memory, Lost Children's Sanctuary.


will cover all the rest of my life.





What I can do this autumn


What I can do

this autumn

is to stay sitting in my chair;

is to return silently into myself

as if returning to a hospital's deserted corridors,

ears alert to the sound of the wind

as I peep a couple of times into the mail box.



is everyday drying the world like baby leaves,

starting big and small fires here and there,

filling every empty space

with the sun's white bleached bones

but I cannot so much as lift a finger.

I cannot make one leaf stay put.


What I

can do this autumn

is to stay sitting in my chair

and bid farewell to the midday sun,

quietly await the afternoon,

courteously welcome winter's courtesy calls.





(Games 29)


Life has taught me many things.

How to pass thick woods in steep mountains's deep valleys,

the wisdom to love, wait, then finally part from one star,

I also learned that you must build a bridge to reach a village,

must get soaked in rain to see a rainbow.

I also learned how to be trodden down and trampled hard,

like a plantain spreading low, low to the ground,

flexing its slender stem,

and I heard of the freedom of owning nothing,

the earthen lump of a heavy heart reduced

to a light and faceless breeze.

Now the final message it has to give

involves walking dark mountain paths without a lamp

one day without warning reaching the end of the world.

To hear that last lesson, I

daily stretch open ears toward heaven

and wipe smoky windows.

The world's pungent smoke is still so thick

that once wiped they grow smoky,

then once smoky I wipe them again,

I spend my whole day at that one task.

Drenching my clothes with unsad tears. . .




The Right Answer

Cross 2 


Nobody told me:

the reason why flowers blossom when spring comes

and fruits ripen in the fall;

the cause why children grow up dreaming, become adults,

live fighting as adults, and die;

'that's how it is, you need not know more,'

life told me, hitting my head.

Spring has come again to the world,

every wound sports dazzling medals of flowers

all the trees stand ready for battle

but you hide silent in the springtime light

gathering up for the highest glory

flowers that in ten days or two weeks will wilt,

in that way living and passing away,

life's right answer is only that:

every bird of the heavens, and flower in the fields,

when the time is come, goes without delay.

There was a youth, barely thirty,

nailed to a cross though free of all guilt.

Softly the whisper comes to my ear.





Camping Last Summer 2


In autumn

cosmic twilight comes


and as the world was astir

with golden memories


one heart

with no house to which to return


saw the very end of the wind

roaming the open plains.


The pure gold salt-field encrusted with salt

from sweat and tears, winter's shady spot,


mornings when the way to heaven could be glimpsed




in the cup of water

you grant my late days

the light of the western sky overflows.