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AsiaFriday, July 28

Charmed by a Korean Poet's Life

2017 marks the 100th anniversary of Korean poet Yun Dong-ju's birth. He is well known in his home country. Under Japan's colonial rule, he wrote poems that represent a true sense of identity in his mother tongue. Recently, his work has been receiving attention from people beyond the Korean-speaking world.

Yun Dong-ju was born in a Korean settlement in China in 1917. He's thought to have started writing poems in junior high school.

People visited a special event in Seoul to mark the 100th anniversary of his birth.

"His poems are full of emotion," says one fan. "I like them very much."

Another focuses on the historical significance of Yu's work.

"I remembered Yu's poems when I was looking up at the night sky filled with stars," he says. "He's an ethnic poet as well as a poet of resistance."

Yasuko Yanagihara has been captivated by Yun's poems and his life for more than 20 years.

She found out that he came to Japan in 1942 to study English literature at what turned out to be the same university as her.

"I think Yun's poems are very pure, and that's why they are so appealing," says Yanagihara.

"I believe the way he lived his life has been reflected in his works."

Yanagihara has been collecting documents and testimonies to trace the poet's activities in Japan.

From 1910 to 1945, the Korean peninsula was under Japan's colonial rule. The Japanese tried to assimilate Koreans through education.

They were taught to pledge loyalty to Japan as citizens.

While studying in Japan, Yun resolutely continued to write poems in Korean.

"In poetry, words are the most important thing," says Yanagihara.

"I believe he couldn't even think of writing in other languages. I think he wanted to use Korean, his mother tongue, for his poems."

In 1943, Yun was arrested for violating the now-defunct peace preservation law.

He was accused of taking part in the movement calling for Korea's independence.

The next year, he was sentenced to two years in prison.

He died in a Fukuoka jail at the age of 27.

Three months after Yun's death, his family built a grave in his hometown.

The words on the stone read: "The Grave of Yun Dong-Ju, a Poet."

His family inscribed them because he was never able to publish his poems during his short life.

This high school in Seoul organized a tour to visit places in Japan to follow Yun's footsteps.

They listened to a talk by Yanagihara and learned about Yun's life during his studies in Japan.

"South Koreans know little about Japanese poets," says one student. "It's surprising that a Japanese person is so passionate about studying Yun Dong-ju."

"She asked each of us which ones were our favorite poems," says another.

"I was surprised that she understood everything we said and recited the poems along with us. I could tell how much she loves and respects the poet."

Yanagihara is determined to continue her research. She hopes to create awareness of Yun's legacy.

"Yun Dong-Ju lived and wrote poems in pursuit of universal values," she says.

"He wasn't swayed by the perspective of the time. I think his poems will resonate with many, including young people, for generations