Yu Chi-hwan was born in 1908 in South Gyeongsang Province and died in 1967 as a result of a car accident. Although he wrote some essays and novels, he is best known for his poetry. He wrote more than 160 poems and published 10 anthologies of his poetry.
Yu's hometown, Chungmu, is a harbor town and there is no doubt that it influenced his poetry greatly. The subject matter of his poetry is largely taken from nature, especially images of sea. He was touched by all aspects of nature: flowers, animals, rocks and, most of all, people as a part of nature. Through nature, he emphasizes his dual themes of the fullness of life and emptiness. The idea of emptiness in his poetry is an affirmative emptiness which one must overcome through life's struggle.
His poetry is characterized by eagerness and enthusiasm for life and his resistance to that which oppresses life and that which is against the natural course of life. He is considered by many to be a representative of the Life School (Saeng-Myeong-Pa) in modern Korean poetry. In spite of his great compassion for all of life, he often finds the daily social situation difficult to deal with. Consequently, a sense of emptiness is portrayed in his poetry. His earlier poetry was written during the time of the Japanese occupation of Korea between 1910 and 1945; as a result, many of the poems are concerned with Japan's oppression of his country. In these poems, he often expresses the agony that one experiences when confronted by disparity between the ideal world and reality.
Yu's personification of objects in nature expresses his sense of emptiness reflected through these natural objects as in "Solitude." His determination to overcome the trials and hardships of life is expressed by the ideals of silence, stillness and endurance without a show of emotion. His poems that contain a strong sense of emptiness are also often bitter and cynical. Because he explicitly states the irony between reality and the ideal, these poems are especially appealing. They expose the bitterness of life which coexists with the truth in life.
Yu placed greater emphasis on ideas and themes in his poetry than on style or technique. His rhetoric is direct and without elaboration. His free-verse poetry is prosaic, and he generously uses similes and metaphors. In order to portray his life force, he often uses images of fluttering such as the fluttering waves of the sea. Sometimes his poetry tends to be overly idealistic, but such idealism only strengthens the consistency of his themes and ideas - the fullness of life and the emptiness of life caused by the dualities inherent in life. The feelings of loneliness and desolation in Yu's poetry are not negative but affirmative, filled with promise and hope for the future.
A cluster of daffodils-
Blooming at the corner of my shabby room
The pure and delicate appearance gives off endless serenity
And strokes painfully at my rough heart calloused in the morning by a hangover
Up to where did you modestly bloom?
Now on streets
The sky is dreary and gloomy
The cold draught is cutting the skin
Pale faces come and go, silently crouching
In this cold, worn out world
Daffodils, how could I believe
The clarity and calmness of your birth?
But definitely there was
The innocent and graceful spirit
In the gloomy air nestled like spring mist
The patient and solemn roots were
Buried alone enduring calmly the cold, profound pain of the deep entrosphere
Daffodils, I bend over you
And find the childlike smile and sparkling eyes of a young boy
That everyone has forgotten completely
Therefore I do not believe in this haggard life
And in no way do I grieve for it
In you the inborn innocence and foresight of the boy who will certainly return.
A cluster of poor flowers
Hiding from whom did you bloom at the corner of my lonely room
Reflecting silently on the whole world
A cold figure of endless purity and delicacy
In this freezing substratum of the season
You are the silently raised hands
Holding the promise of spring.
When I ask if she is sick, she smiles faintly
When she is sick, she closes her eyes quietly -
A cluster of wild flower
So does a man live, sicken and pass away.
Faced with it, even given the whole universe, we are helpless all the more
I ultimately cannot share your pain.
I close my eyes silently and, my dear wife
You contemplate this vainly endless
Web of love with blood and flesh
In this distant solitary vast emptiness
Staring at the only lonely one
Do you hear the dark colorless wind that blows mournfully under the earth
Keeping the far off dim starlight in the heaven that you can no longer see?
There stretching the lean hand of pity
You pity the young birds for our fate.
Ah! Long ago, you were
A cluster of elegant flowers that burnt the ardor of my youth.
In my miserable life
You are just one comforting green tree of love and hate.
Ah! Is this autumn?
The autumn breeze blows over you calmly?
If you were gone -
Just the thought drives me like an animal filled with sorrow
But it is only the thoughtless petulance of love.
In face of the solemn truth
You disappear like the wind
And I will be left alone like the wind
Ah, my very intimate but detached one!
If I Longed For Someone
In this valley where no one comes
The sky is ever a blue lake
As a small bird runs to another branch
Pine pollen falls
One solitary wild rose
One single stone
Boring to keep even one long day.
If I had someone I indeed longed for in my heart
It would be joyful even to hide away in this valley alone.
Beautiful pine pollen, pine pollen
Clings only to one hand.
In the broad daylight with the burning vitality of July
Solitude quietly flows.
One tiny reality rolling in the yard -
Under the burning red sun, are here and there scattered crouching
I see in you
The words of my tenaciously speechless soul and its purity
As the sun sets in the west
The shadow dimly grows
Ah, at last, it surrounds the whole world
Becomes the night of the shadow of my spirit.
But it is daylight now, without shadow
Crouching under the burning red sun
Covered with milky white dreams
Little stones, oh my spirit!
I am a fallen crow of loneliness
Though walking confused on the cold weather roads
My mind is far away at home
Occupied by the red camellia under the blue sky
Folks in my village laughed at my dream
I hated and deserted them like worn-out sandals
Why cannot my mind be like the snake
Missing the untrustworthy smiles and greetings like flowers?
Oh, my home on the far southern shore
The sparkling waves doze on the distant horizon
The heart of a young wife like pebbles washed by billows
Worried by the cry of sea-gulls.
Hope flows into the torn pocket
And I will not die
Under the trees of the pavement in a cold, alien place
Just like a sickened black slave
Oh! Where is my way home as the return of evening mountain birds?