December 22 is the shortest day of the year. In Korea, this day is known as “dongji.” One ancient Korean poem subtly describes the long night of December 22.
I want to wrap this dark winter night
With the spring breeze
And uncoil it the night my lover returns to me
The poem compares long winter nights of waiting for one’s lover with short spring nights spent with him. It was written by the renowned Korean female poet Hwang Jini. She lived during the reign of the 11th king of Joseon, Jungjong, who ruled in the 16th century, and was a renowned gisaeng, or entertainer. According to historic records, she was born in an aristocratic family in Gaesong but her mother came from a lower class. Hwang Jini enjoyed reading classical books and was a talented poet, but according to Joseon’s law at the time she had to become a concubine of a nobleman. When a young man from her neighborhood fell in love with her but later died from lovesickness, she decided to become an entertainer.
Unlike other gisaeng, Hwang Jini wrote poems and stories in addition to using her charms. Hwang Jini chose freedom over social status. She enchanted men with her poetic skills and beauty. Even the high-ranking nobleman Byeok Gye-soo and the famous Buddhist monk Jijok Seonsa were mesmerized by her beauty and alluring poems. Hwang Jini became famous when Monk Jijok Seonsa renounced Buddhism because of her influence. She even attempted to seduce the renowned scholar Seo Gyeong-deok to test his nobility and morality. But despite her irresistible charm, the great scholar didn’t budge, and later Hwang Jini became his student.
Hwang Jini spent her life traveling around the country and writing beautiful poems about scenic landscapes. She died at the age of 40 and was buried on a roadside in Gaeseong, which was her last wish. Her grave was discovered later by her former lover and poet Lim Baek-ho. Despite her low social status, Hwang Jini was an object of admiration among scholars for her beauty, intelligence and artistic talent. She was a devoted lover and made the best of her life. She is known as the most beautiful woman of the Joseon era and an outstanding poet. Movies, novels and TV dramas about her extraordinary life are produced to this day.