Born in 1961 in Yecheon, North Gyoengsang Province, An Do-hyeon went to Daegu for his high school education and there first began to associate with other writers and to write poetry himself. After graduating from the Department of Korean Language and Literature of Wongwang University, situated in the town then called Iri but now known as Iksan, he became a school-teacher in the same town. After joining the unauthorized teachers' union known as Jeongyojo he was dismissed, like many others. He has now been reinstated and is teaching in a rural area of North Jeolla Province.
He began his poetic career by being selected for the 1981 Spring Literary Award offered by the Daegu Maeil Shnmun and the 1984 Spring Literary Award offered by the Donga Ilbo. He published his first collection of poems, Seoullo ganeun Jeonbongjun (Chon Pong-jun on his way to Seoul) in 1995, and has followed that with Modakbul (Bonfire, 1989), Geudae ege gago sipda (I want to go to you, 1991), Oeropgo nopgo sseulsseulhan(Lonely, high, melancholy, 1994), Geuriun yeou(Beloved fox, 1996). He has also published two very popular books in prose written as if for children but in fact designed for adults, Yo˘¨no˘¨ (Salmon) and Gwangye (Relationships). He received the first Prize for Young Poets awarded by the journal Si wa sihak in 1996 and the thirteenth Sowol Poetry Award in 1999.
One by one leaves
keep falling, settling
in lowly places.
They seem to be saying there's plenty to share in life
and I long to share something with you.
I have very little to offer, but still
one autumn evening
as the leaves are falling, I want
to ask why love
prefers lowly places
Yesterday when I met you
I was feeling sad.
On the way to my dreary home
the sound of the stream was louder
because so many wrongs are being committed.
But it was only after meeting you
that I started to realize
that the wrongs in my heart
grow deeper the more I try to forget them,
grow remoter the more I bring them to mind.
Among all the things I have
I desire to keep hidden for ever
the things that should stay hidden.
But still, since I have learned that anyone
who cannot feel pain on your account
is unable to comfort the world in its pain,
insofar as my shame and my pain
are all for you,
I long to reveal them all.
Since I first met you
a wind has been gusting in my heart,
about twice the affection you feel for me
and my heart has been aching but
as I think of all I have to give
I feel increasingly happy.
One coal briquette
There are lots of other ways of putting it
but it's as if what we call life
means becoming a coal briquette
for someone other than myself.
From the day the floors first feel chilly till the following spring,
the loveliest thing on all the roads of Korea
is the briquette truck chugging
its way up steep inclines with all its might.
I eat piping hot rice and soup every day,
but it's as if I had not realized that once the flame has caught hold,
each briquette grows scorching hot,
seeming to know just what's required of it.
It's as if I have been unable to become a briquette for anyone so far
because I was afraid of the way, once love has caught fully hold
all that remains is a sorry handful of ash?
On careful thought,
it's as if what we call life
is pulverising me
in order to make a safe path where someone other than myself
can walk at ease on slippery mornings after snow has fallen
and I had failed to realize that.
If I had some ground
I would sow it with morning glories
so that in due time
from morning to night purple trumpet music
would delight my ears.
Every day I would watch with tear-drenched eyes
as tendrils stretched into the sky with all their might.
If I had some ground
I would not leave my son a single square yard.
Instead, on the spot where the flowers had bloomed and faded
I would gather together the seeds in a globe
and leave him a world not yet come to light.
I used to detest putting on new clothes.
I could hardly blame mother who carefully bought me clothes
saying I would have to start wearing things too big for my size
then in one year's time they would fit me perfectly,
but actually I always used to think: Well, what about now?
and I used to detest it because I felt the way I did not fit my new clothes
revealed to strangers how poor we were,
with the sleeves far too long,
so I had to wear them rolled up a couple of times.
I had the impression I was wearing old flour sacks turned inside out;
I felt the girls were giggling behind my back.
Since I hated the new clothes that went about with me
anticipating my childhood desires by a year or so,
I used to roll around recklessly. I would roll on lawns, damp ground,
on dusty playgrounds, but no matter how wildly I rolled,
the ever clean clothes confining me firmly at last
got crumpled up, into the drawers of the desk, into corners
of my room, into cases, into my sense of inferiority, and one day
I ended up tossing out for washing things that were not dirty.
Rushing headlong, tossed out into the world
suddenly there I was, thirty-three years old,
but still this morning, on account of all those clothes
this morning I shouted angrily at my wife:
You haven't ironed my shirt, so how can I put on my suit
and it's already time I was off, for crying out loud!
I seem to have arrived at the point I was bound to reach.
Choosing clothes to match the person I meet, and the place,
is surely a sign I am approaching middle class?
If my clothes have become a colour code guaranteeing wealth and position,
surely I must already be middle class?
No, no, no, shaking my head from side to side,
I put on the clothes the wife has ironed and imagine I'm
a green frog sitting trembling on a pale green leaf,
a mud frog looking out for food in a muddy pond.