Manuscript of Yoon Dongju "One Night, Counting the Stars" (1941) by Dongju YoonYoon Dongju Memorial Hall, Yonsei University
A poet who fought to preserve the Korean language
Yoon Dongju was a poet who wrote all his poems in Korean even under the oppression of the Japanese colonial rule. From his study notes to his poetry book for charity, he wrote all his poems in Korean and steadfastly submitted them for the Yonhui College magazine, Munwu (A Literary Friend), which at the time had to be published in Japanese due to the censorship imposed. He was a strong young literary man who deplored the reality where a cultural community, built on a long history, was forcibly being extinguished by external pressure and fought to preserve the Korean language as a cultural language, beyond a daily spoken language, by writing poetry in Korean.
Manuscript of Flowers Bloom in the Garden (2019) by Dongju YoonYoon Dongju Memorial Hall, Yonsei University
Only one remaining poetry book saved at someone's life
It is thanks to those who risked their lives to preserve this single poetry book that we are able to enjoy Yoon Dongju’s poems today. The poet’s only remaining copy of Sky, Wind, Stars, and Poem was preserved by his literary friend and later scholar of classical literature, Jeong Byeonguk, and Jeong Byeonguk’s family who escaped Japanese crackdown and censorship to hide the manuscript in their hometown house in Gwangyang. After liberation, the poetry book was published by those who valued it and the book became widely known. It is petrifying to think that "Prelude" and "One night", "Counting the Stars" could have been lost forever.
Collection of the book of Yoon Dongju (2019)Yoon Dongju Memorial Hall, Yonsei University
A person who kept progressing through ceaseless learning
Yoon Dongju was a person who had an extraordinary passion for language and literature and an unusual curiosity about the world. Even after he graduated from school in his hometown village, he enrolled in Yonhui College in Gyeongseong (old name of Seoul) to study in earnest and later in Rikkyo University and Doshisha University, continuing to develop his skills as a literary writer. His scrapbooks and book collections reveal his intense intellectual curiosity about literature, philosophy, art, classics, and new thoughts. He was a poet who always strived to express his contemplations from in-depth reading and discussions in easy and beautiful poetry.
Photograph Yoon Dongju with friends on the CCC yearbook3 (1941) by Yonsei University MuseumYoon Dongju Memorial Hall, Yonsei University
A warmhearted and delicate, yet upright person
Friends who spent a long time with Yoon Dongju talk about his warmhearted and delicate, yet upright nature. The death of such a humane and talented friend was so regrettable that, even today, many fellows continue to prepare memorial services and willingly travel long distances every year to be with him. A junior from his hometown and Yonhui College, Jang Deoksun, remembers how walking, talking, and even silence with the poet were like a poem. His anecdote about the poet helps us imagine the person Yoon Dongju was.
Photograph of Yoon Dongju with his friends at the riverside (2020) by Dongju YoonYoon Dongju Memorial Hall, Yonsei University
“I must have fallen asleep from the fatigue of my journey. Then I woke up startled at the knocking sound on my window. Dongju was back and telling me to leave the window slightly open. He watched me get up and open the push up window, then turned back and left whistling happily. I later heard that Dongju had almost reached the dormitory, which is not even remotely close [from my place], before he turned around to return to my boarding room. I was told a student at my boarding house had collapsed in his room from smoke inhalation not long ago, and that the cause was sawdust being used in the furnace for heating. Dongju had gone and come back, then walked again through a cave of faint lights, through the streets of Baekyang-ro without a single lamppost.”
- Jang Deoksun
Photograph of Yoon Dongju's graduation (1941)Yoon Dongju Memorial Hall, Yonsei University
A poet remembered in Korea, Japan, and China alike
Yoon Dongju is a poet who is special as he is loved in Korea, China, and Japan alike. As a descendant of Joseon (old name of Korea) people who moved to the Bukgando area amid the complex modern and contemporary history of East Asia, he grew up there with a longing for the southern region of the Korean Peninsula that he considered his home until he gradually moved south for his studies. The regions where he stayed span the present-day China, Korea, and Japan, and in all those places, poetry stones have been erected in honor of him and memorial services are being held. The life of a young man and his noble poems are serving as a medium for memories and reconciliation in East Asia through those who love him.
Continue to take a look at the touching story about Yoon Dongju's life and poetry, here.