This is a Silent Cry
『This is a silent cry
An everlasting handkerchief of nostalgia waving toward that vast blue sea
Pure love flutters in the wind like a wave
On only a clear, straight post of ideology
Sorrow spreads its wings like a white heron』
-From “Flag” by Yu Chi-hwan-
Known as the “Poet of Flag,” Yu Chi-hwan was a writer and longtime educator. While serving as junior high school principal, he published 14 anthologies of poetry. “Flag” is one of his representative poems. It is said that Yu started writing poems after he was impressed by great poet Jeong Ji-yong. Yu made his literary debut through a literary magazine known as Monthly Literature with the poem “Tranquility” in 1931. Let’s explore the life of this poet who expressed the will to live with an intensely masculine tone in his poetry.
Portraying Wandering, Pain in Poetry
Yu Chi-hwan was born in 1908 in Tongyeong, South Gyeongsang Province. He was the second of eight children. His older brother was Yu Chi-jin, a famous playwright. He attended a local village school until he was eleven years old to learn Chinese classics. He was a rather quiet boy.
After graduating from Tongyeong Elementary School, Yu went to Japan to study. While in Japan, he became more reserved. He spent most of his teen life reading and writing alone rather than making friends.
He made his debut as a writer with his poem “Tranquility” in 1931 and published his first collection of poems “Cheongma Anthology” in 1939. Cheongma is his penname, meaning a blue horse. The anthology contains his early 53 poems, including “Flag.” Around that time, Yu hung around with young writers of his age and enjoyed drinking. His wife was anxious about that and suggested that they move to Pyongyang. There, Yu ran a photo studio. But he soon closed it and concentrated only on writing poems.
In the spring of 1940, Yu left for North Manchuria with his family with a determination to run a farm. With the Pacific War almost reaching an end, most people lived in poverty at the time. Yu worked on managing land that his brother Yu Chi-jin had cultivated.
Unfortunately, Yu lost his son on a snowy winter day. The ground was frozen so hard that he couldn’t spade the soil. He had to bury the body of the young boy in a ridge between fields in the wild plain. Yu later described this place as “an iron wall-like wilderness of despair stuck in the gloomy mud!” in his poem “In the Wilderness.”
Writing, Sharing Poems
On September 15th, 1945, Yu created the “Tongyeong Culture Association” with young writers, and led the organization along with Yun Isang(윤이상), Jeon Hyeok-rim(전혁림) and Kim Chun-su(김춘수) serving as assistant administrators. The enlightenment group taught illiterate people the Korean alphabet of Hangeul, held classes on general knowledge for citizens, and staged plays for rural enlightenment.
Yu was in the education field for a long time. After Korea’s liberation from Japanese colonial rule in 1945, he returned to his hometown and taught students. He continued writing poems and gave lectures on poetry at the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences of Kyungpook National University. One day, a man named Heo Man-ha(허만하) visited Yu’s house. The young literary enthusiast was fascinated by Yu and his poems, although he graduated from the university’s medical school. He asked Yu what he would have done if he had not been a poet. Looking up at the sky, Yu answered that he would have become an astronomer.
Death in Traffic Accident
Yu’s poetry is characterized as being arrogant and outspoken. This sometimes makes readers feel awkward but his poems are said to move people more deeply and truthfully than other poems with many rhetorical expressions.
Yu died in a traffic accident on February 13th, 1967. He was returning home after meeting a few writers at a drinking house.
After his death, a street in his hometown, Tongyeong, was named after Yu Chi-hwan, as it is said the poet often enjoyed long strolls along that street.