A Night of Counting the Stars
(별 헤는 밤)

poem by
Yun Dong-ju (윤동주)
year of publication
1946
poetry collection
Sky, Wind, Stars, and Poetry
(하늘과 바람과 별과 시)
, 1948
별 헤는 밤
A Night of Counting the Stars

계절이 지나가는 하늘에는
The sky is full to the brim with autumn
가을로 가득차 있습니다.
as the season makes its way across it.

나는 아무 걱정도 없이
It is as if I had no worries at all
가을 속의 별들을 다 헬 듯합니다.
so I could count all the stars nestled in autumn.

가슴 속에 하나 둘 새겨지는 별을
Yet I cannot quite finish counting all those stars
이제 다 못 헤는 것은
that are settling in my heart one by one,
쉬이 아침이 오는 까닭이요,
because mornings have a way of coming swiftly,
내일 밤이 남은 까닭이요,
because tomorrow's night is still to come,
아직 나의 청춘이 다하지 않은 까닭입니다.
and because the fire of my youth hasn't burnt out yet.

별 하나에 추억과
I see memories in one star
별 하나에 사랑과
and love in another
별 하나에 쓸쓸함과
and loneliness
별 하나에 동경과
my longings
별 하나에 시와
and poetry in each
별 하나에 어머니, 어머니,
and Mother in another, Mother.

어머님, 나는 별 하나에 아름다운 말 한마디씩 불러 봅니다.
Mother, I am trying to call out a beautiful word for each star.
소학교 때 책상을 같이 했던 아이들의 이름과, 패, 경, 옥,
Names of the kids I shared desk with in grade school, such foreign
이런 이국 소녀들의 이름과, 벌써 아기 어머니 된 계집애들의
girls' names as Pae, Kyeong, Ok, and the girls who have become
이름과, 가난한 이웃 사람들의 이름과, 비둘기, 강아지, 토끼,
mothers already, my poor neighbors, the doves, puppies, rabbits,
노새, 노루, 「프랑시스 잠」, 「라이너 마리아 릴케」 이런
mules, roe deer, Francis Jammes and Rheiner Maria Rilke - I call
시인의 이름을 불러 봅니다.
such names of poets.

이네들은 너무나 멀리 있습니다.
They are all so far away from me.
별이 아스라이 멀듯이.
Just as the stars are ever distant.

어머님,
And Mother,
그리고 당신은 멀리 북간도1에 계십니다.
you are in North Gando1 which is so far away.

나는 무엇인지 그리워
Longing for something I couldn't name,
이 많은 별빛이 내린 언덕 위에
I wrote my own name on this hill
내 이름자를 써 보고
which is bright with all the starlight landing,
흙으로 덮어 버리었습니다.
but then I covered it up again with dirt.

딴은, 밤을 새워 우는 벌레는
True, some insects chirp through the night
부끄러운 이름을 슬퍼하는 까닭입니다.
because they lament their shameful names.

그러나, 겨울이 지나고 나의 별에도 봄이 오면,
Yet when spring comes around to my star after winter,
무덤 위에 파란 잔디가 피어나듯이
even on this hill where my name is buried,
내 이름자 묻힌 언덕 위에도
shrubs will grow thick as if boasting
자랑처럼 풀이 무성할 거외다.
like the green grass that sprouts on a grave.

[1] 북간도: 두만강 이북의 현 중국 연변 자치구 지역 (옛 만주)
[1] North Gando (Jiandao): present Yanbian in northeastern China (old Manchuria).
별 헤는 밤

계절이 지나가는 하늘에는
가을로 가득차 있습니다.

나는 아무 걱정도 없이
가을 속의 별들을 다 헬 듯합니다.

가슴 속에 하나 둘 새겨지는 별을
이제 다 못 헤는 것은
쉬이 아침이 오는 까닭이요,
내일 밤이 남은 까닭이요,
아직 나의 청춘이 다하지 않은 까닭입니다.

별 하나에 추억과
별 하나에 사랑과
별 하나에 쓸쓸함과
별 하나에 동경과
별 하나에 시와
별 하나에 어머니, 어머니,

어머님, 나는 별 하나에 아름다운 말 한마디씩 불러 봅니다.
소학교 때 책상을 같이 했던 아이들의 이름과, 패, 경, 옥,
이런 이국 소녀들의 이름과, 벌써 아기 어머니 된 계집애들의
이름과, 가난한 이웃 사람들의 이름과, 비둘기, 강아지, 토끼,
노새, 노루, 「프랑시스 잠」, 「라이너 마리아 릴케」 이런
시인의 이름을 불러 봅니다.

이네들은 너무나 멀리 있습니다.
별이 아스라이 멀듯이.

어머님,
그리고 당신은 멀리 북간도1에 계십니다.

나는 무엇인지 그리워
이 많은 별빛이 내린 언덕 위에
내 이름자를 써 보고
흙으로 덮어 버리었습니다.

딴은, 밤을 새워 우는 벌레는
부끄러운 이름을 슬퍼하는 까닭입니다.

그러나, 겨울이 지나고 나의 별에도 봄이 오면,
무덤 위에 파란 잔디가 피어나듯이
내 이름자 묻힌 언덕 위에도
자랑처럼 풀이 무성할 거외다.

[1] 북간도: 두만강 이북의 현 중국 연변 자치구 지역 (옛 만주)

A Night of Counting the Stars

The sky is full to the brim with autumn
as the season makes its way across it.

It is as if I had no worries at all
so I could count all the stars nestled in autumn.

Yet I cannot quite finish counting all those stars
that are settling in my heart one by one,
because mornings have a way of coming swiftly,
because tomorrow's night is still to come,
and because the fire of my youth hasn't burnt out yet.

I see memories in one star
and love in another
and loneliness
my longings
and poetry in each
and Mother in another, Mother.

Mother, I am trying to call out a beautiful word for each star.
Names of the kids I shared desk with in grade school, such foreign
girls' names as Pae, Kyeong, Ok, and the girls who have become
mothers already, my poor neighbors, the doves, puppies, rabbits,
mules, roe deer, Francis Jammes and Rheiner Maria Rilke - I call
such names of poets.

They are all so far away from me.
Just as the stars are ever distant.

And Mother,
you are in North Gando1 which is so far away.

Longing for something I couldn't name,
I wrote my own name on this hill
which is bright with all the starlight landing,
but then I covered it up again with dirt.

True, some insects chirp through the night
because they lament their shameful names.

Yet when spring comes around to my star after winter,
even on this hill where my name is buried,
shrubs will grow thick as if boasting
like the green grass that sprouts on a grave.

[1] North Gando (Jiandao): present Yanbian in northeastern China (old Manchuria).
yun dong-ju portrait photo
Yun Dong-ju

A Night of Counting the Stars (별 헤는 밤) is probably the most popular work of Yun Dong Ju (윤동주), who is one of the best loved poets of the past times in Korea. The poet reminisces and searches in his heart, touching on everything that is precious to him, from the natural surroundings such as the sky, season, and the stars, to the friends and neighbors and animals, and finally to the subject of the ultimate longing, mother. The stream of thoughts flows beautifully, with a delicate personal touch and perhaps with a greater poignancy than in any other of his works, describing the deepening autumn sky and the stars, recounting why he cannot merely continue counting the stars (he must be ready for a morning that might come swiftly as well as another night that might be in store), and remembering all the people and animals he cared for.

In the end, all this leads to the recurring theme of his works -- the dark, oppressive reality of the stateless nation of his people and the seemingly insurmountable odds against any change. It was an anguish he couldn't free himself from throughout his living days, which towered above all the longing, angst, and soul searching that he went through as a young man. We see how he agonized and despaired, even hearing a cry of shame in the chirping sounds of insects, and holding on to the hope of seeing the day when grass will grow back thick in the very place that bears his shameful name.

The poem is full of juxtapositions of starkly contrasting themes. It opens with a beautiful line about stars in the autumnal night sky, but evokes a somber image of grass growing thick on a grave toward the end. It talks of mornings that might come swiftly, then another night still to come; innocent creatures elevated to the level of his human friends, then insects cursed to chirp through the night lamenting their shameful names. We might say it all goes back to the perpetual human fate of struggling between good and evil, or more generally, where we want to be and where we are. We all want to be good and happy, but there always seems to be something in our way of attaining that. The problem comes in many different guises. In Yun's case, it was primarily the formidable militaristic empire that took hold of his people, which was too great an obstacle for a fledgling young man.

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Yun Dong-ju (윤동주)

Young idealist poet who fought against the injustices of his day until the very end of his short life

aritist
Yun Dong-ju (윤동주, 尹東柱), poet
nationality
Korea
born
Dec 30, 1917, in Yongjeong (Longjing), Gando
(present day Jilin Province, China)
died
Feb 16, 1945 (27), in Fukuoka, Japan
genre
lyric poetry (with political undertones)
major works
Foreword (서시)
A Night of Counting the Stars (별 헤는 밤)
Another Home (또 다른 고향)
The Cross (십자가)
Confession (참회록)
New Road (새로운 길)
A Poem Written Easily (쉽게 씌어진 시)
White Shadows (흰 그림자)
The Liver (간)