A love letter from the past

When one reads many of the old accounts of Joseon Korea written by Westerners, one gets the feeling that Korean marriages were often cold and businesslike affairs.  This letter, however, demonstrates that many of these Western perceptions – at least in some cases – were wrong.  In 1586, following the death of 30-year-old Lee Eun-tae, his pregnant wife wrote him a letter and placed it in his tomb.  In her letter she wrote:

You always said, “Dear, let’s live together until our hair turns gray and die on the same day.” How could you pass away without me? Who should I and our little boy listen to and how should we live? How could you go ahead of me?

How did you bring your heart to me and how did I bring my heart to you? Whenever we lay down together you always told me, “Dear, do other people cherish and love each other like we do? Are they really like us?” How could you leave all that behind and go ahead of me?

I just cannot live without you. I just want to go to you. Please take me to where you are. My feelings toward you I cannot forget in this world and my sorrow knows no limit. Where would I put my heart in now and how can I live with the child missing you?

Please look at this letter and tell me in detail in my dreams. Because I want to listen to your saying in detail in my dreams I write this letter and put it in. Look closely and talk to me.

When I give birth to the child in me, who should it call father? Can anyone fathom how I feel? There is no tragedy like this under the sky.

You are just in another place, and not in such a deep grief as I am. There is no limit and end to my sorrows that I write roughly. Please look closely at this letter and come to me in my dreams and show yourself in detail and tell me. I believe I can see you in my dreams. Come to me secretly and show yourself. There is no limit to what I want to say and I stop here.

You can see a picture of the letter and learn more about how the letter came to be discovered here – At Letters of Note.

(Hat tip to Yoo K.O.)

  • Arghaeri

    Love letter or “woe is me” letter?

  • rockon

    Cold and businesslike affairs?
    That describes modern day marriage pragmatism.

  • PekingMan

    Surely one of the best books to recommend for anyone interested writings covering a range of topics in Joseon Korea is, Jahyun Kim Haboush: Epistolary Korea – Letters in the Communicative Space of the Choson, 1392-1910. Columbia UP, 2009.

    Despite the rather clumsy title the book offers a decent range of well translated letters, including many between husband and wife.

  • a-letheia

    Correct me if I am wrong, but my wife was telling me that long ago Korean widows were indeed expected to openly wail at the husband’s tomb for a year… That was good form so to speak. While Korean weddings have had a strong formal “public display” function, and so too, it would seem, have funerals in quite the opposite way. That said, this particular woman did have a poetic gift, and it is impossible not to be moved by the letter.

  • DLBarch

    That was and is an extraordinary letter, Robert. Thanks for sharing that.

    And, no, I’m not welling up…I’ve just got something in my eyes. Honest.


  • http://www.xanga.com/wangkon936 WangKon936

    This was nice. Thank you for sharing Neff.

  • guitard

    I was anticipating that the letter would be written in hanja. Very interesting to see that it was written in hangul – which at the time was still a relatively new alphabet.

  • http://www.xanga.com/wangkon936 WangKon936


    As the yangban said, hangeul is for women and poor idiots (sangnom).

  • http://www.xanga.com/wangkon936 WangKon936

    Somehow, this made it to Gawker:


  • guitard

    WangKon936 wrote:


    As the yangban said, hangeul is for women and poor idiots (sangnom).

    Of course, I know about the fact you’ve stated. But I thought since maybe she was of a much higher social standing (possibly even royalty?), she might have also been educated in the art of hanja.

    Were there no women at all in this era who learned to write in hanja?

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