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  • To the Readers
  • Han Yong'un
    Translated by Sammy Solberg (bio)

Born in Hongsoŭng, South Ch'ungch'oŭng Province, in 1879, Han Yong'un is considered one of the great pioneers of modern Korean poetry. He joined the Buddhist orders in 1905—becoming known by his Buddhist name, Manhae—was editor of and contributor to the non-violent Buddhist newsletter Yusim, and assisted in writing the 1919 Declaration of Korean Independence. During the period of Japanese Occupation that began in the early twentieth century, he was active in the anti-Japanese guerrilla movement known as the Righteous Armies. From 1919 to 1922, while imprisoned for his participation in the Independence Movement, he wrote a series of poems in Chinese. Upon his release, he returned to Paektam Temple and in 1926 wrote in Korean the poems published as Nim Ŭi ch'immuk (The silence of love), his only published collection. Grounded in Buddhist spirituality, the poems have layers of meanings, some comparing the political suffering of Korea to the longing for the mystical beloved. Han died in 1944.

Readers. I am ashamed to set myself up as a poet before you. I know as you read      my poems you will be disappointed in me and for yourselves. I have no mind for your children to read my poems. To read my poems then might well be like rubbing a bit of dry chrysanthemum in      your fingers and holding them up to your nose in a flowering glade in late      spring. I don't know how far the night has advanced. As the darkness thins in Mount Soŭrak I wait for the bell of a dawning day as I put my brush aside.

(The night of the 29th day, 8th month, the year of Ŭlch'uk [1925]. The End)
Sammy Solberg

Sammy Solberg taught in the Asian American studies program at the University of Washington. His books include The Land and People of Korea and Peoples of Washington: Perspectives on Cultural Diversity, which won the Washington State Governor's Writers Award.