If There Is Much In The Window There Should Be More In The Room

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

BECAUSE Love Could not Stop for Death


BECAUSE Love could not stop for Death

A mournful note and a pair of sandals from the 16th century have captivated South Korea. On June 1, 1586, a pregnant widow in the east wrote to her husband:
"You always said you wanted to live with me until our hair turns gray. How could you pass away without me?" 

She left the letter in his tomb, along with shoes she'd made as a sign of love for her ailing spouse, woven from her hair and hemp bark. There they lay until the city of Andong began moving graves to make way for houses.
Her message was that love transcends time and place. "Come to me secretly," she urged. "Although I have so much to say, I'll stop here."

Korea has resurrected the dialogue with two novels and a TV documentary. 
A statue of the widow stands at the grave site. 

Koreans and Japanese tourists have bought thousands of copies of the letter. "It is a timeless piece," says Park Chang-gun, a professor directing an opera about the couple, "still making people cry." --
*(In the November issue 2007 of National Geographic, Locks of Love, Neil Shea had written this poignant touching story)*
In April of 1998, affected by an urban renewal project, a construction was about to begin on a large apartment complex in Andong City, South Korea. 

The tombs were to be relocated in accordance with the wishes of a descendant community in the city. An earlier survey had established that the hillside contained 16 tombs. The burial belonged to a group of small earth mounds which stood near the top of the slope on the south bank of the Nakdong River which flows through Andong City. 

Archaeologists determined that the tombs belonged to the ancestors of the Kosung Yi, a clan indigenous to the region that rose to power at the end of the Goryeo Dynasty (A.D 918-1392) and remained influential throughout the Joseon Dynasty (A.D 1392-1910). Several were left unclaimed.

Not long after, descendants of another family started looking for their ancestors burial ground and dug into an unclaimed tomb, after breaking through its hardened-earth shell, they exposed a wooden coffin. 

They dismantled it, found a silk sheet covering the coffin and removed pieces of clothing, until they reached the body. 

Everyone at the site was stunned. Inside was a male mummy, a very rare find in Korea ten years ago. Although his skull was badly decayed, his skin and beard were still visible. 

He was tall, even by today's standards, measuring 5 feet 9 inches, and sturdily built. 
"The dark mustache made me feel that he must have had a charming appearance," says Se-kwon Yim, former director of the Andong National University Museum and one of the first people to see the mummy.

Together with the coverings of the body, there were cloth bundles secured with hemp ropes that revealed 75 artifacts including a jacket, undershirt, sash, hats, socks, shoes and clothes belonging to a woman and a child. 

More evocative still were 18 paper documents referring to the deceased and his family. These were found between the inner and outer coffins, over the body and within a leather pouch.

Documents found within Eung Tae Yi's tomb.


             Location of
No.   Writer         discovery                Contents

 1    Mong Tae      Spread on                    Mourning for his brother's death
                                 the chest

 2                              On right                  Written on a fan; mourning for his
                                 side of the                brother's death

 3    Wife of            Below                     Mourning for her husband's death
        Eung Tae        Document 1
 4                                                           Reply to the letter sent by Eung
                                                              Tae; about sending the seeds

 5                                                          News of epidemics

 6    Yo Shin,                                         News of Mong Tae's father-in-law;
        Eung Tae's                                     relating to a hawk (for hunting)

 7      father                                           About the health of Eung Tae's
                                                             Father-in-law; expecting Eung
                                                             Tae's homecoming

 8                                                         Expecting Eung Tae's homecoming;
                                                            discussion of the hunting hawk

 9                                                         The harvest and related affairs

10    ?                    Within the              Document for fortune telling
                               pouch                   about marriage

11    Yo Shin                                          About the marriage; talking about
                                                             the accessories for the hunting
                                                             hawk; related to Document 10.

12    ?                              ?

13    Yo Shin                                          Talking about epidemics; sending
                                                              fish for Won; the hunting hawk
                                                              is ill

14                                                         Worrying about the defection of
                                                             serfs; about selling the hunting

15    ?                                                    About moving the tomb to the other

16    ?                                                   About the birthday feast for Eung
                                                            Tae's father-in-law

17    Wife of        Between the             Paper used for wrapping the hair
        Eung Tae *  outer and
18                         Right side                 Paper used for wrapping the shoes
                              of the head

* Confirmed by handwriting analysis

Quoted from: (Tabulation of documents is by Antiquity Publications, Ltd., Gale Cengage Learning, 2009)

They found a silk sheet covering the coffin that contained the letters : Cheolseong Yi. The descendants were notified immediately but they were quite surprised and puzzled.

Their descendants apparently, like many other Korean clans kept a very detailed lineage book recording locations of their ancestors’ tombs. 

The descendants take really good care of these burials, holding traditional rituals, including an annual ceremony called “Jesa”, in which the family visits the grave, prepares food, bows to their ancestor, and then feasts.

But somehow, this tomb was not recorded in their book, it wasn’t cared for like the other tombs, and no one knew who was buried there.
The descendants still had no idea of who was buried there until they uncovered letters addressed to “Eung-Tae”.

On looking closer, archaeologists saw a letter from his wife covering his body; it turned out to be the key to his identity.

The letter from Eung-Tae's wife

Another letter, written on a piece of paper measuring 58.5 x 34cm, was found in the space between the face and chest of Eung-Tae's body.

The script was formed from archaic, sixteenth-century Korean characters (Hangeul), written vertically and read from right to left. 

When there was no space remaining for writing, the paper was turned in a counter-clockwise direction, and the contents were written downwards again, repeatedly. Although there was no overt identification of the writer of the letter, judging from the contents, it was written by Eung-Tae's wife:

A complete copy of the letter’s translation is found below:

To Won's Father
June 1, 1586

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.
(Courtesy Andong National University)

The wife addressed her husband in the traditional manner, 'Father of Wan', suggesting that they had, or were soon to have, a child named Won. And in the next paragraph, 'my child in my pregnancy; to whom could he say daddy after his birth?' suggests that she was pregnant at the time of writing. 

Since the letter was written by Eung-Tae's wife when her husband was dead, Eung-Tae's year of death was 1586, as seen at the end of the letter. And as Mong-Tae, the elder brother of Eung-Tae, wrote, 'for 31 years you and I lived with parents...', we could infer that Eung Tae was born in 1556. 

Considering that Yo Shin, the father of Eung-Tae, died in 1611 (at the age of 89), Eung-Tae died when his father was 64 years old.
It is quite understandable that very little information about Eung-Tae remained in the Clan Lineage Book, because it was common practice that people who died at such a young age were frequently omitted from those official records, excepting minimal information about them (e.g. their names).

Therefore, neither the location of Eung-Tae's tomb nor the dates of his birth or death could be found in the records of the Clan Lineage Book.

A paper parcel was found next to Eung-Tae’s head. 

At first archaeologists couldn’t make out what it was, but when they unwrapped it, they revealed a pair of men’s shoes.
Faded writings on the worn-out wrapping paper included phrases like “with my hair I weave this”
and “before you were even able to wear it” Scholars from Korea’s National Institute of Scientific Investigators analyzed the handwriting and concluded that the shoes were in fact, made from her hair. 

The shoes seemed to have been made of mixed hair and hemp.
Why should hair have been used in the making of these shoes?
And why should these shoes have been buried in the tomb?
“There are references in Korean literature to the tradition of making the shoes with human hair as a symbol of love or hope for recovery from an illness, but we have never actually found any examples,” says Se-Kwon Yim, former director of the Andong National University Museum.

In a sense, the most crucial achievement in this case has not been the successful interpretation of any one document or the reconstruction of any article of clothing. Rather, it has been the very touching story reconstructed on the basis of all such data.

Eun-Joo Lee, Dong Hoon Shin,
Hoo Yul Yang, Mark Spigelman, Se Gweon Yim

*original post date 3/27/11


  1. Disfruté tu comentario. Tienes mucha sensibilidad.

  2. Gracias...
    Sensitivity is the pinnacle of
    the evolution of life on this planet
    over millions of years.
    And this is what I value the most.
    For, if it were not for sensitivity,
    in all its diverse forms,
    as well as our unparalleled
    sheer capacity for faith,
    love and devotion,
    that which saints have pined on
    and that which poets have imagined,
    there will be no arts,
    no literature, neither music,
    nor a belief system
    centered on the Divine.
    Empirically speaking,
    we wouldn’t be blessed
    with what I feel
    is the essence of
    the human experience!

    What I love about this story
    is the definitive air of
    pure undying love,
    sensitivity and inevitability
    as time marched on
    to the end that it’s hard
    for us readers not to sense
    that something, someone
    was in great anguish/tribulation
    during that period in time -
    so much to tell even
    beyond death itself.

    A woebegone tale,
    a deeply touching love,
    going right to the heart,
    in a word - sempiternal.

    Thank you, Victoriano,
    for reading this.....

  3. Truly amazing post Cora! My feeble words can not express how moved I feel by the story and history of events. And as always, your presentation is outstanding.


  4. With much gratitude
    that you gave
    this post your
    special time
    and attention, Markus.

    If we carefully comb
    through the
    annals of history,
    we can always find
    stories of everlasting,
    unfailing love,
    true stories that
    goes beyond the
    borders of death...

  5. Questions, which I'm sure many a survivor of a beloved spouse or lover would ask upon losing a loved one. I'm sorry I didn't see this earlier, Better.


  6. If you like
    this one,
    there might be
    more you'd find.
    Please check back in
    from time to time.

    The loss of a loved one,
    feels like floating down
    maelstroms eternal,
    indescribable desolation
    and unending grief.
    A love like that
    is transcendent;
    one that goes
    above or beyond the limits
    of time, of death....
    This is what gives
    love it's power....

  7. The saying goes, that time heals all wounds. I'm not so sure, Better.

    Over time, grief is diminished considerably, but is it ever really gone? It seems, there remains this perception of unfinished business, even over a lifetime, if one was close to the deceased. Their death stays with you, and even years later, you have only tepid courage to dwell, but for a moment, on the memory of that person.


  8. Days get easier
    and harder.
    Life gets better
    or worse
    and we try our
    best to get better
    and be present to it all.
    However, I can't help but
    feel like there was
    a huge elephant
    in the room and no one
    would talk about it - GRIEF.
    Grief does not go
    in a straight line
    just to vanish.
    It hurts and will keep hurting,
    when you remember.

    Time heals all is a myth,
    but probably is often
    said to give us hope.
    Grief never goes away
    and is heavy at times
    you least expect.
    Grief stops showing
    to those who don’t know
    you on the outside –
    but you never stop
    feeling it in your soul.....