No Ch'O※n-myo※ng was born in Changyo※n, Hwanghae Province, in 1911. She graduated from Ewha Womans University in 1934, after she had made her literary debut with the publication of "In Praise of the Night" and "Random Thoughts" in Shin Dong-a in 1932. One of a handful of female poets active during that era, No is generally recognized as the major female poet of the period, along with Mo Yun-suk. Her first collection, Sanhorim (Forest of Coral) was published privately in 1938; it was followed by Ch'angpyo※n (Window-side, 1945), Pyo※ru※l ch'o※dapomyo※ (Looking up at the stars, 1953) and Sasu※m u※i norae (Song of a deer, 1958). She died in 1957.
No's poetry reflects three general trends. First of all, private emotions, particularly loneliness, are strongly depicted. Second, a traditional world drawn from the poet's own rural experience is clearly evident. Third, Noh's poetry reflects her historical awareness and national consciousness.
Of these three tendencies, the first was, from the start, most frequently found in her work. "deer" and "self-portrait," her most famous poems, exemplify this tendency with their unrestrained sentimentality. However, No's creative intention was not limited to a simple expression of loneliness or melancholy. She was attempting to discover a more profound self through the expression of such emotions. In this sense, the melancholy Noh depicts has both existential and ontological significance.
The poems drawn from her rural experience also merit attention. These poems, founded in traditional culture and folklore, generally combine a longing for home with nostalgia for childhood. "Market Day," long featured in middle school textbooks, is one of No's best known poems. In it, the poet voices her nostalgia for a difficult rural life. Since most of the Koreans of her generation had experienced life in the countryside, the world that Noh portrayed was not only familiar but easy to sympathize with. Still today, nostalgia for a childhood hometown has broad appeal.
The third aspect of No's poetry is quite different from the two mentioned above and can best be understood in the context of her activities during the latter part of the Japanese colonial period. She worked as a reporter for Maeil Shinbo, a pro-Japanese newspaper. She also toured northeastern China, then under Japanese rule, as part of an offical Japanese delegation. In addition, she published a number of pro-Japanese poems, glorifying the Japanese occupation and promoting support for the Japanese war effort. After liberation in 1945, No was labelled a traitor, and when the Korean War broke out, she remained in Seoul and joined the Choson Literary Arts Association. She was arrested after the Korean War and received a 20-year sentence for collaboration, but was released after only six months thanks to the efforts of other poets. Nevertheless, this experience had a great influence on her life and poetry.
The historical awareness and national consciousness found in No's later poems are intimately related to this experience and tend to be somewhat artificial. Still, these poems addressed the era in which she lived, and revealed a sharp departure from her previous work. She wrote poems explaining how she came to support the Japanese and depicting her experience in jail. She also began to write anti-communist and patriotic poems, perhaps because she was haunted by her collaboration with the cornmunists and resultant jail experience.
You sorrowful animal with your extended neck
You stand always in majestic silence
You hailed from a proud and respected raceWith your sweet-smelling antlers
Looking down at your image reflected in the water
Recalling the legend that is no more
Out of nostalgia that you cannot escape
Gaze at the far mountain with your mournful neck
As I walked in pine forest pine forest
There appeared an old house bathed in light
Autumn flourished with insects crying
And the moonlight illumined the field covered with snow
In the night as white lilies poured out their perfume
People with fair hands told stories about the deer in the wall screen
With flower stamen in their mouths
As I stroll through the pine forest
Like a wraith
I can almost see the light in the old house
So many stories assail my mind
My body's trembling is like
The quivering of a meek pigeon. . .
After crushing a red rose in my heart and casting it away
From that day an agony has grown within me
What remains for me
If I become a blemish
Which lies heavily in someone's pristine heart?
I would rather be frozen as hard as ice
I would rather be planted firmly as a tree gazing at the sky
I would rather fly away in sorrow like autumn leaves
Holding a yellow chrysanthemum in the early morning
I visited the graveyard
It was the time of changing foliage, oak leaves blushing red
You did not return once you took this road
More than sad, my heart aches
White wooden grave marks
Scattered like doleful musical notes
This is the place where the empty oxcart rattles past
When dusk sprays its fearful darkness
In my heart rises
A graveyard around the corner of the hill
Pathos flutters and swirls like flower petals.
The Day Finds Me
Snow is fluttering
Snow flutters outside the barred window
My fine snow found me even here
My heart standing on tiptoe looks out
My heart and the snow run together in the snowy field.