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Posted : 2008-02-12 17:54
Updated : 2008-02-12 17:54

Lee Sang-hwas Poetry

By Choe Chong-dae

During my recent visit to Daegu, I paid tribute to the monument that was erected in memory of the poet Lee Sang-hwa at Dalseong Park.

It was the first to be erected among the memorials commemorating literary achievement in 1948. Throughout the centennial history of Korean modern literature, Lee Sang-hwa (1901-1943) has stood out as one of the most influential national and patriotic poet.

He participated in the ``Samil Independence Movement'' of March 1, 1919 in Daegu to seek the restoration of Korean sovereignty against Japanese colonial rule.

Born and raised in Daegu, he graduated from Jungdong High School in Seoul. He studied French literature in Japan and returned to Korea in 1922 where he taught English and French at Daeryun High School, Daegu.

Demonstrating great intelligence and literary talent from a young age, he debuted as a poet in the literary world by composing romantic poems such as ``The Minor'' and ``To My Bedroom (Madonna).'' The poems appeared in the magazine ``Baikjo'' in 1922.

His reputation grew as a young promising poet after composing the poem entitled ``Does spring come to these stripped lands?'' in 1926, which was published in the 70th edition Magazine of ``Kaebyuk.''

The anti-Japanese poem, which captures the misery of an oppressed nation by illustrating the sorrow and anger of Korea's gloomy colonial situation, touched a cord in the hearts of the Korean people.

``Does spring come to this land no more our own, to these stripped fields?

Bathed in the sun I walk as if in a dream along a lane that cuts across paddy fields like parted hair to where the blue sky and the green field meet.

Mute heaven and silent fields, I do not feel I have come here alone; tell me if I am driven by you or by some hidden force… ''


Many other poems such as ``The Disease of Korea,'' ``The Song of Forerunner,'' ``The Ridicule'' and ``The Wailing'' were composed by Lee and published in the Kaebyuk magazine in 1925-1926.

Although there were several magazines in the early 1900s in Korea, Kaebyuk was the most influential and the first comprehensive monthly journal, which featured major common social issues, particularly in the literary field.

Under the slogan of ``Opening substance, your mind, present and future,'' Kaebyuk magazine was founded and first published in 1920 by Chondo-gyo, (originally called Tonghak), the native Korean religion. Kaebyuk means the creation of a new world (era) and a new life, which implies the establishment of paradise on earth with new truth of ``In-Nae-Chon,'' or Man is God. The humanistic ethics of egalitarianism and philanthropy stemmed from Chondo-gyo.

Kaebyuk has been called a magazine for the masses because it played a significant role in enlightening the Korean people with a clear consciousness.

The inaugural edition was confiscated by the Japanese censorship authorities because of an editorial. Although a special edition of the magazine was published after two days, it was confiscated again.

Finally, the temporary edition that had covered some critical literary works by Korean writers was published. It appealed to a wide audience.

Because the Kaebyuk magazine became the cradle of Korean modern literature by introducing a new form of civilization, it gave birth to numerous remarkable literary works.

Many became famous by publishing their prominent work through Kaebyuk: Kim So-wol, Kim Dong-in, Na Do-hyang, Hyun Jin-gun, Byun Yeong-no, Park Jong-hwa, Lee Kwang-soo and Lee Sang-hwa.

Their outstanding literary works have shed light on the development of modern literature. In this sense, Kaebyuk has an important meaning in the history of modern literature in that the magazine firmly set up the independent area of this new form of cultural expression. It has served Korea as a symbol of nationality by urging national identity.

Since its birth, it has followed a thorny path: 34 cases of confiscation, suspension of publication, penalization until publication was brought to a complete stop in 1926 by the Japanese.

The 70th edition of Kaebyuk in June 1926, which covered Lee's anti-Japanese poem quoted above resulted in suspension and the life of the magazine was brought an end after publishing two more editions in August 1946. It has witnessed many turbulent times in Korea.

Although Kaebyuk disappeared from our society many decades ago, I am the proud owner of a copy of the magazine's edition, which contains the poem above,

It is my fervent wish that many readers of this column will take the same inspiration from Lee's poem as I do.

The writer is the president of Dae-Kwang Int'l Co, the Korean representative of Compagnie Cotonniere, France. He is also a longtime director of the Korean-Swedish Association.

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