Korean Children's Songs - Spring of My Old Home (고향의 봄), Half Moon (반달)

Spring In Korea

Korea has a wealth of beautiful children’s songs, of which these are two of the best known ones. Written in the 1920s, these songs are so widely known and loved by Korean children as they grow up it is part of the national soul of Korea. They are staples of children’s music textbooks, as well as the songs by which Korean expatriates remember their old home. Many professional singers have sung and released these songs because they are musically beautiful in their own rights. Korean people are in a sense blessed that they grow up learning such beautiful works of art at an early age.

고향의 봄

나의 살던 고향은 꽃피는 산골
복숭아꽃 살구꽃 아기진달래
울긋불긋 꽃대궐 차리인 동네
그 속에서 놀던 때가 그립습니다

꽃동네 새동네 나의 옛 고향
파란 들 남쪽에서 바람이 불면
냇가의 수양버들 춤추는 동네
그 속에서 놀던 때가 그립습니다

Spring of My Old Home

My old home deep in the flowery mountains
Of peach blossoms, apricots, and baby azaleas
Like a flower palace in all pretty rainbow colors
How I miss the times when I played in there

Flower mounds and bird nests, my old home
Where the willow trees dance by the creek
As the wind blows from the southern pasture
How I miss the times when I played in there


푸른 하늘 은하수 하얀 쪽배에
계수나무 한 나무 토끼 한 마리
돛대도 아니 달고 삿대도 없이
가기도 잘도 간다 서쪽 나라로

은하수를 건너서 구름 나라로
구름 나라 지나선 어디로 가나
멀리서 반짝반짝 비치이는 건
샛별이 등대란다 길을 찾아라

Half Moon

Gliding down the Milky Way in the blue sky
A little white boat carrying a bunny and a tree
Without a sail and having no rowing oars
Oh so well she sails toward the western land

Across the Milky Way into the cloud land
Past the cloud land where's she headed now
That distant twinkling light beckoning to her
It is the Morning Star to help her find the way

Korean Village 1

Spring of My Old Home (고향의 봄)’s lyrics were written in 1925 by Lee Won Soo (이원수, 1912-1981) as an entry for a student poetry contest, while music was by the famous composer Hong Nan Pa (홍난파, 1898-1941). Over the years the song came to be loved by the Korean people to such an extent that it is practically the all time greatest children’s song of Korea. You wouldn’t be a Korean native if you didn’t know this song.

Its lyrics are about longing for the old home the narrator has left behind, a place deep in the mountains where blossoming flowers turn it into a palace all draped in rainbow colors, where flower mounds and bird nests are so adoringly beautiful, a dream of a place you would always hold dearest in your heart. Korean Village 2 It is an apt description of the old Korean villages as Korea has such a mountainous terrain. Chances are that one’s home is somewhere in or near the foot of a mountain range, or failing that, there must be at least one prominent in your vista. For millenniums the Koreans have lived in these mountainous surroundings working as farmers first and foremost, all along until about a hundred years ago. So the lyrics ring natural and true to them, and the gently flowing beautiful tune by Hong also hits home to their heart. The song is like a symbol of home to the national psyche, just like the song Furu Sato (ふるさと - 故郷, 고향) is to the Japanese, and When It’s Springtime in The Rockies is to the Americans in the mid west if you will.

Moon Bunny 1

Half Moon (반달) was written by Yoon Geuk Young (윤극영, 1903-1988), who was one of the pioneering composers of the early era of modern Korean music, both lyrics and music. The song is a depiction of a half moon that glides across the sky in its ever westerly path, conjuring up an image of a little boat carrying a bunny and a tree, as the moon is often described in Korean folklore (some people claim you can see them in the moon’s dark patterns if you squint your eyes in certain way:-).

It was an imaginative idea in itself but that is certainly not all there is to it. Yoon obviously wrote the lyrics hoping deep in his heart for a better future for the nation. He saw the Korea of his time as a helpless nation like a boat adrift on the vast ocean lost without a direction, as the country had lost its sovereignty under the rule of Japan.
Moon Bunny 2 Like many of his contemporaries, he wanted to help the nation break out of its hopeless drift through his songs. He composed an image of the little boat of a half moon lost on a perilous course with no clear direction, a metaphor of Korea of the time, and closed it with an upbeat note in the second verse, It is the Morning Star to help her find the way (샛별이 등대란다 길을 찾아라). Literal translation of that line is actually more like Take the Morning Star as the guiding light and find your way. It was a heartfelt and rather explicit admonition to the children of his poor, lost motherland. And happily for him and the Korean people, the nation at last found its right course and turned its destiny around.

I remember learning these songs when I was small. How it was so much fun to sing them in class with that vague, fuzzy idea in my head of a faraway place. I remember me and my classmates mistakenly singing 아기도 잘도 잔다 instead of 가기도 잘도 간다 (confused by similar pronunciation) and the teacher correcting us. Ah the good old early years of our lives.


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