The Moon Is Up

Poetry by North Korean teenage youth defectors translated into English for the first time.

“ANSEONG, South Korea—The hundreds of North Korean children and teenagers who now defect every year to South Korea were born after Pyongyang’s Stalinist system began to collapse, some during the worst years of a food shortage believed to have killed up to 2 million people.

Many are orphans, all are stunted from malnutrition, and most have missed months or years of school as a result of North Korea’s collapsing system and time spent illegally transiting through China and other third countries.

At the government-funded Hangyoreh Middle High School, a three-year-old remedial boarding school for more than 200 North Korean teens, courses include core academic subjects as well as life skills and arts, including creative writing.

Hangyoreh principal Gwak Jong-moon has collected poetry written under pseudonyms by the students and published it in a Korean-language volume titled “The Moon Is Up.” With his kind permission, Radio Free Asia has translated these poems into English for the first time and will publish them in several parts.

Deceptively simple in style, these poems convey stark, poignant scenes from the students’ own lives, including loss, separation, and hunger. The title of the collection alone evokes the clandestine nature of their journey to South Korea, of young lives lived in shadow to avoid arrest and repatriation to swift and certain punishment in North Korea.”

(Source: Radio Free Asia:

The Letters I Could Never Send


The Wind

By Park Eun Shil

The wind is blowing over mountain after mountain,

Softly whispering a song into my ear

Today the wind is growing stronger

Stabbing my cheeks

Digging into my flesh

It burns

It curls around me, my ears hurt

Blowing chills, it’s riddling me with stings, I’m going numb

My eardrums are bursting

The wind is hurting me so bad

My soul is beginning to hurt

If it’s my face that’s being whipped by the wind,

Why is it my soul that hurts?

Shooting up in the sky, a soccer ball


For no reason

There was a time when my father and I used to play

Today, I am playing soccer alone, I imagine I’m playing

The severe father I hated to see

Now that I see that soccer ball shooting up

I remember my father’s face

That memory is gone in an instant, gone with the wind

With the soccer ball, it flies

Far away, into the western sky.


When Will That Day Come?

By Hong Soo Young

Seasons never stop and just go by

This year again, fall is upon me

How come the wall of separation

Is not crumbling down yet

With fall, the foliage comes

The foliage gone, white frost is everywhere

Seasons go by in vain

How come the frost filling my soul

Will not thaw

When will the day come, the day of the rallying cry of unification

The day that will thaw

The frost filling my soul

That day is approaching, one day at a time

The day I will meet my beloved family

Is not too far away

Will that day only

Thaw the frost filling my soul

I wish for that day to come, I wish to greet the day

That will thaw the frost filling my soul

And replace it with warmth and coziness.


The Warm Embrace

By Hong Eun Hee

When I was little, I did not know

The warmth of my mother’s embrace

Now I know

The worth of my mother’s embrace

My mother’s embrace, that I now miss

My mother’s embrace, that I dream of

The day that I get back

My mother’s embrace,

Could that day come, it’s all that I ask for.

The day somebody longs for my embrace

And receives it with a warm heart

Even though it may not be as warm as my mother’s embrace

It will bring warmth to a corner of my soul.


Out of all the poems, I chose three that spoke most to me. There isn’t much need for words; just by reading these poems you can tell how much these North Korean youth defectors went through. They may be smiling on the outside, but they still harbor deep-set hurts and pain. To have gone through so much when they haven’t reached adulthood… I only wish for them to have many happy days in the future.


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Currently living and pursuing my undergraduate studies in South Korea.

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