Yun Dong-Ju was born in 1917 and brought up in North Kando, Manchuria (Jilian Province in Northeast China today).

Completing his elementary education in both Korean and Chinese schools, Yun Dong-Ju went to a secondary school run by the Korean church. In 1934 at the age of seventeen he released his first four poems to the public. One of these early works is There is No Tomorrow. In the same year he transferred to Soongshil High School, a Presbyterian mission school in Pyongyang (the capital of North Korea today).

He had attended this school for only seven months when the school was closed by the Japanese colonial government as a result of its students' refusal to adopt Japanese Shintoism. While there, Yun Dong-Ju wrote fifteen lyrics that included five children's verses. A Skylark was his last poem written in Pyeongyang.

Despite his reluctance to attend a Japanese school, Yun Dong-Ju had to complete his remaining two years in a Japanese associated high school in his hometown, whereby he became qualified to go on to college. During this two-year period he concentrated his poetic efforts on writing children's verses. An Echo in the Mountain is representative of this period in his life.

In April 1938 Yun Dong-Ju entered the liberal arts department of Yeonhee Christian College in Seoul (Yonse University today) along with his hometown cousin, Song Meong-gyu, with whom be continued an unflagging life-long friendship.

During Yun Dong-Ju's four years in college the Korean peninsula increasingly was turning into the advance base for the Japanese war of aggression. Also, the Korean people were compelled to increase their loyalty to the Japanese emperor by using the Japanese language only and by converting individual names into the Japanese way, while under a contradictory policy of strict racial segregation. Yet even under such unfortunate and unfair circumstances Yun Dong-Ju unusually enjoyed his association with outstanding Korean scholars, writers and colleagues as well as the exposure to contemporary world literature and thought. In the end he made significant progress in his literary creative works as most of his renowned poems were written during his college years in Seoul. Even though Yun Dong-Ju looked relatively peaceful and stable in Seoul, conflicting values and his own struggle to find himself constantly challenged him. Self-portrait reflects these struggles.

In March 1942, by converting his family name into a Japanese one, Yun Dong-Ju was authorized to cross the Korea Strait and further his education in Japan. After a semester in Tokyo he joined his cousin in Kyoto. As Yun Dong-Ju was involved in unauthorized anti-Japanese government activities aside from his schoolwork in Kyoto the Japanese police arrested him in July 1943 as an "Intellectual Criminal." All of his poems written then were destroyed or lost except for five. The last one, A Poem I've Written Easily, was written in Tokyo and dated June 3, 1942.

Yun Dong-Ju, and his cousin were sentenced to two years imprisonment in Fukuoka. There, on the 16th of February 1945 he died after prolonged harsh treatment. His cousin died three weeks later. He was buried in the graveyard of his home church in Manchuria. In 1948, Yun Dong-Ju's first anthology Heaven, Wind, Stars and Poems containing 31 poems was first published in Seoul, Korea.




There is no Tomorrow

¦ˇA question from a young mind


They repeatedly say, "Tomorrow, tomorrow."

I ask them, "When does it come?"

And they reply, "When it dawns, tomorrow comes."


I search for the new day myself.

When I awake and look around

I find no tomorrow.

Rather I find the today

that has already come.


My folks!

There is no tomorrow.





A Skylark


Although the skylark hates

the muddy back alley

of the early spring morning

it loves the fascinating songs

of the bright spring day

and so it flaps its light wings.

And yet even today

I frivolously shuffle along

the back alley like a small fish,

wearing worn-out shoes.

And without a wing or a song¦ˇ

ah, my heart is ever heavy.




An Echo in the Mountain


A magpie's cry

echoes in the mountain,

yet nobody hears

the echo in the mountain.


The magpie hears

its echo in the mountain,

it alone hears

the echo in the mountain.






Skirting the foot of the hill, by myself

I come to a lone well by a paddy and silently look into it.


In the well there is the moon, shining bright, clouds flowing by

and the sky spreading open.

A blue wind wafts. It is autumn.


Therein is a man as well. I hate him but I know not why.

I turn away from him and go away.


Going away, I come to feel compassion for him.

I return and again look into the well. Therein remains that man.


Again, I come to hate him and go away.

Going away I come to long for him.


In the well there is the moon, shining bright, clouds flowing by

and the sky spreading open.

A blue wind wafts. It is autumn,

and the man therein is but a remembrance





A Poem I've Written Easily


A night rain whispers outside the window.

The floor of my room in a foreign land

is covered with six tatami mats.


To be a divinely destined poet is a solemn duty.

Let me try to jot down a poetical line.


The smell of my parents' sweat and affection

fills the envelope containing my tuition.


With a notebook under my arm

I head for an old professor's lecture.


I come to think of my childhood friends.

First one, then another, they're all gone.


What do I hope for as I sink alone?

Life is so hard,

and yet I've all too easily written a poem.

I feel so ashamed.


The floor of my room in a foreign land

is covered with six tatami mats.

A night rain whispers outside the window.


Turning the lamp on,

the darkness goes away.

I, as if a man on the last day,

await the morning

to break forth like a new age.


Offering myself my small hand,

I propose the first handshake¦ˇ

in tears and comfort.