The Eternal Yearning for The Old Home - Homeplace (고향) and Song of The Old Home (고향의 노래)

Snow Trail

Songs and poems about one’s old home is one strong thread in Korean literature and music. There are countless songs about one’s homeplace and the family and friends there in the art song genre alone, of which these two are prime examples. Homeplace (고향) is out of the ordinary in its brooding, pensive mood arising from an alienation one feels on returning to one’s home. Song of The Old Home (고향의 노래) is one that is exuberant and joyous, as typical of songs remembering the good old days at one’s home. While they may be different in character, both are breathtaking and soul cleansing in their wholesome, unadulterated beauty.


고향에 고향에 돌아와도
그리던 고향은 아니러뇨

산꿩이 알을 품고
뻐꾸기 제철에 울건만

마음은 제 고향 지니지 않고
머언 하늘만 떠도는 구름

오늘도 뫼끝에 홀로 오르니
흰 점꽃이 인정스레 웃고

어린시절에 불던 풀피리 소리 아니 나고
메마른 입술에 쓰디쓰다

고향에 고향에 돌아와도
그리던 하늘만이 높푸르구나


Here I am back at my homeplace
Yet it isn not the home I longed for

Mountain pheasants nurse their eggs
Cuckoos calling as they do in season

Only my heart is not embracing its home
Like a cloud adrift in the distant sky

I climb a mountain alone once again today
Where a white wildflower smiles at me warmly

The grass flute from childhood won't make a tune
Leaving a bitter taste on my dry lips

Here I am back at my homeplace
With only the lofty old blue sky by me

고향의 노래

국화꽃 져버린 겨울 뜨락에
창 열면 하얗게 무서리 내리고
나래 푸른 기러기는 북녘을 날아간다
아 이제는 한적한 빈 들에 서 보라
고향 길 눈 속에선 꽃등불이 타겠네
고향 길 눈 속에선 꽃등불이 타겠네

달 가고 해 가면 별은 멀어도
산골짝 깊은 골 초가마을에
봄이 오면 가지마다 꽃잔치 흥겨우리
아 이제는 손 모아 눈을 감으라
고향 집 싸리울엔 함박눈이 쌓이네
고향 집 싸리울엔 함박눈이 쌓이네

Song of The Old Home

Chrysanthemums bloomless in the wintry yard
White frosts blanket the earth outside the window
Blue winged geese flying across the northern sky
Ah ah, now try standing in the quiet empty field
Floral lamps burning on the snow trail back home
Floral lamps burning by the snow trail back home

The sun and moon down, stars shine far above
In the thatch roofed village deep in the mountain
Every branch sprout waiting for a festive spring
Ah ah, now close your eyes with hands clasped
Snow thickening up on the twig fence back home
Snow thickening up on the twig fence back home

Snowy Trail 1

Homeplace is based on the poet Chung Ji Yong (정지용, 1902-1950)’s 1935 poem. Chung is one of the major poets of the Japanese occupation era. some of whose works are loved widely enough to be listed on high school textbooks. In Homeplace, he expresses a deep disappointment from finding the home he has returned to not quite what he was expecting. It appears the home itself has not changed much since, as can be surmised from the absence of any mention of concrete changes, but the narrator himself seems to be under the weight of certain unspecified emotional burden. His feelings of restlessness and alienation are beautifully expressed through his activities and what he encounters in nature, all the while looking inward for answers. The wildflower warmly smiling at him and the lofty old blue sky that he feels is the only thing faithfully by him all paint a vivid and heartfelt picture of a heavyhearted man groping around to rediscover the old rapport with the home he grew up in.

Chae Dong Sun (채동선)’s familiarly beautiful melody elevates the listening experience to make it one of the distinguished works in sad ruminant mood. Many professional classical singers sang it, but the internationally renowned performer Sumi Jo’s impassioned rendition is one excellent choice.

Snowy Trail 2

Song of The Old Home has a refreshing and soaringly upbeat mood. It is one of those sparkly, crystal clear beauty that seems to cleanse your soul when you listen to it. It extols the splendor of the frost covered winter world, asking you to try standing in the quiet empty field, admonishing you to take in the omnipresent life giving force all around you. And the floral lamps must be burning along the snow covered trails back home. The lyrics are inspiring, and the melody is enchantingly soaring. It is one of the outstanding art song gems.

Both songs are about one’s old home. It seems like there are endless supply of songs about one’s home in Korea. The proliferation of such songs, about one’s old folks who used to or now live at one’s place of origin, is nothing surprising. Family ties are generally stronger in Asian countries, and might even be yet stronger in Korea among the Asian countries. It is partly because of the long tradition of farming life of the Koreans. Until the industrialization in the 20th century, an average Korean was a farmer who is born in the village of his ancestors, spends all her life tilling the land, and eventually returns to it by being buried in it. Generations after generations of such earth bound life made the relationship with the earth and among the family much stronger than in Europe for example, where there have been rampant migrations and disruptions throughout history. Many Koreans have had to live away from their homes one way or another to be sure for diverse reasons, for one’s study or employment at prominent centrally located institutions for example. During these periods away from home, they get to be so homesick that myriads of works of art come about that depict and laud such sentiments. All this led to the concept of the old home (고향), the originating place or homeplace of a person, which is quite strongly established going well beyond the simple notion of birthplace. Everyone has this old home associated with him as an important part of his identity. It is another thing peculiar to Korea’s tradition that manifests itself in many forms including the works of art.


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