[THE FOUNTAIN] Heartbreaking Letters of Longing

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[THE FOUNTAIN] Heartbreaking Letters of Longing

"Today again/ I am writing you a letter facing the post office window/ Where the sweeping emerald sky is in view./ Through the door leading to the street many people/ Come in, their faces preoccupied./ They quickly buy stamps, get telegram sheets/ And send sad, happy or friendly messages/ To faraway hometowns or to those they miss."

Cheongma (Blue Horse), Yu Chi-hwan (1908-1967), sent letters to Lee Yeong-do. His 5,000-odd letters to her are collected in "I Loved, so I was Happy," which speaks for all lovers. In February, the street before Tongyeong Post Office in South Kyongsang province, where Cheongma mailed his letters, was named "Cheongma Street." A monument bearing his poem "Happiness," the one above, has been erected next to a red mailbox, to commemorate his letters for a long time to come.

Many people write letters to those in faraway places, but sometimes they resort to writing even when they can speak face-to-face. Many people remember how they spent their youthful days writing urgent love letters laden with their innermost thoughts, which they didn't dare to convey in person.

Even now letters are written. People send e-mail and written messages as a daily routine. It is hard to read the shadows of the heart's yearning in such messages written to the point and instantly delivered to the recipient. In this era, there are people who write letters of yearning with no promise of replies.

"The city has fallen: Only the hills and rivers remain./ In spring the streets were green with grass and trees./ Sorrowing over the times, the flowers are weeping./ The birds startled my heart in fear of departing./ The beacon fires were burning for three months,/ A letter from home was worth ten thousand pieces of gold./ I scratch the scant hairs on my white head,/ And vainly attempt to secure them with a hairpin."

This is "Looking at Spring" by Chinese Tang Dynasty poet Du Fu (712-770), whose family was split during an upheaval. It is a poem of homesickness, the poet shedding tears over his family and grudging the brilliant spring that burst upon him when he was getting old and the country was still in division. Korean ancestors also wrote many letters of longing for families separated in national disturbances ?the Mongolian invasion during the Koryo Dynasty (918-1392) and the Japanese and Chinese invasions during the Choson Dynasty (1392-1910). On Thursday, separated families of the North and the South will exchange letters for the first time in half a century, but they have no guarantee of replies. Their tears contained in these letters will be enough to flood Seoul's Han River and Pyongyang's Taedong River. When will these letters of separated families end in Cheongma's poem of "Happiness"?

by Lee Kyeung-chul

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