It struck me while it is true that I am at my loneliest these days, they are also my most carefree days. No obligations; no commitments; unrestricted; unburdened; borderless in frame of mind and physical – free, I am free.
How many people can claim this at twenty-four?
Yun Tongju wrote this poem in an attempt, I suspect, to amend the internal conflicts within himself; a colonial Korean man in imperial Japanese lands, there for education. Ashamed and guilty over his circumstance yet at the same time, I think, grateful for the opportunity. I think in trying to drive home his many conflicted feelings as a young man in a not-quite-foreign land, he wrote this poem, aptly titled A Poem That Came Easily. According to the translator (referenced below), this is one of his most respected work.
When I read it for the first time last week, I thought, “Ah, this is it.”
That last stanza is probably my favorite. Talk about saying goodbye to oneself in the most heartbreaking way, you know? Ooof. This poem was written in the 1930s, yet it still resonates today; this is what I call a true masterpiece.
“The night rain whispers outside the window
of my six-mat room, in an alien country.
The poet has a sad vocation, I know;
should I write another line of poetry?
Having received my tuition from home in an envelope
soaked with the smell of sweat and love,
I tuck my college notebook under my arm
and go off to listen to the lecture of an old professor.
Looking back, I see that I have lost my childhood friends;
one and two at a time–all of them.
What was it that I was hoping for,
and why am I simply sinking to the bottom alone?
Life is meant to be difficult:
it is too bad
that a poem comes so easily to me.
My six-mat room in an alien country:
the night rain whispers outside the window.
I light the lamp to drive out the darkness a little,
and I, in my last moments, wait for the morning,
which will come like a new era.
Extending a small hand to myself,
I offer myself the very first handshake,
tears, and condolences.”
— Yun Tongju, A Poem That Came Easily
McCann, D. R. (Ed.). (2004). Columbia Anthology of Modern Korean Poetry. New York, NY, USA: Columbia University Press. Retrieved from http://www.ebrary.com.