Tag: Korean poetry

That poem in ‘Because This Is My First Life’

There are a lot of reasons I loved Because This Is My First Life. Like, a lot.

One of them is Jiho’s penchant for making literary allusions and using extended metaphors to express her complicated thoughts and feelings. This was a nice bit of character development, I thought; even though Jiho doesn’t work as a writer for a good chunk of the show, that side of her still comes through to the viewer.

There are two main works which Jiho alludes to in the show. One of them is the poem <방문객> (“The Visitor”) by Korean poet 정현종. The poem appears in his 2009 anthology <섬> (Island).

first-life-4

방문객

사람이 온다는 건
실은 어마어마한 일이다.
그는
그의 과거와 현재와
그리고
그의 미래와 함께 오기 때문이다.
한 사람의 일생이 오기 때문이다.
부서지기 쉬운
그래서 부서지기도 했을
마음이 오는 것이다―그 갈피를
아마 바람은 더듬어볼 수 있을
마음,
내 마음이 그런 바람을 흉내낸다면
필경 환대가 될 것이다.

The Visitor

The coming of a person
is, in fact, a tremendous feat.
Because he
comes with his past and present
and
with his future.
Because a person’s whole life comes with him.
Since it is so easily broken
the heart that comes along
would have been broken ― a heart
whose layers the wind will likely be able to trace,
if my heart could mimic that wind
it can become a hospitable place.

[I’m appending a million caveats onto this translation because I feel that translating poetry is sacrilegious unless you truly, truly understand the nuances of the language and the cultural/historical context of the poet — neither of which I can claim to be any kind of expert on… and yet here I am. I did read a few analyses of this poem; while my translation is a little graceless, I think it gets across the main point of poet. Take it with a grain of salt, use with caution, etc. etc.]

For what I know of the poet (Romanized as Chong Hyon-jong), his works reflect the challenges of connecting with oneself and others during this age of materialism, but mostly end on an uplifting note.

The titular poem, for example, poignantly captures this sentiment with just two lines:

사람들 사이에 섬이 있다.
그 섬에 가고 싶다.

Island

There are islands between people.
I want visit that island.

Because This Is My First Life isn’t only about marriage and love in the modern age (though it does do an amazing job at addressing that). Like these poems, I think the show as a whole tries to capture the profundity of human interaction. Knowing oneself isn’t easy. Knowing others is almost impossible. But despite this, the fact that humans are able to come together and communicate and coexist is a truly tremendous feat. Everyone comes with their own ‘baggage’ — their own past, their own present, their own future. It’s not something to downplay or ignore. To accept them as a person is to accept all of their weight; that, perhaps, is the best comfort that one human being can offer another.

외눈박이 물고기의 사랑 – 류시화 시집

Way back when, I read a poem by Korean poet Ryu Shi-hwa.  My friend and language partner at the time, Kwang-im, suggested him when I was suddenly struck with the desire to read Korean poetry.  Now, I’m not inherently a lover of poetry but through my many years as a student of English literature (which came to an end right before college), I’ve managed to amass a few favorites.  Sylvia Plath, Edgar Allan Poe, T.S. Eliot, to name a few.  And, having scoped out as many poems as I can find by him, I can now add 류시화 to that list.  His poetry is simple, yet deep and ponderous at the same time.  A fellow poet describes Ryu’s poetry as such:

“류시화 시인은 일상 언어들을 사용해 신비한 세계를 빚어낸다.  바로 이 점이 그의 시의 중요한 미덕이다.” – 이문재 (시인)

Poet Ryu Shi-hwa evokes the mysteries of this world using everyday language.  This is the most significant virtue of his poetry.  – Lee Moon-jae (poet)

When I went to Korea back in September 2014, I was thrilled to finally add one of his anthologies to my Korean literature collection.

The title of this particular anthology translates to The Love of the One-eyed Fish.  The titular poem is actually one of my favorites.  This is the first half of it:

외눈박이 물고기처럼 살고 싶다
외눈박의 물고기처럼
사랑하고 싶다
두눈박이 물고기처럼 세상을 살기 위해
평생을 두 마리가 함께 붙어 다녔다는
외눈박이 물고기 비목처럼
사랑하고 싶다

<외눈박이 물고기의 사랑>에서

The poet wants to live and love like a one-eyed fish.  Why?  Because in order to live like a normal two-eyed fish, two one-eyed fishes have to stick by each others’ side and swim about together.  It’s a poem about longing for companionship in life.

In this particular anthology, and in most of his other works too, Ryu’s poems are rooted in nature.  Trees, birds, rain, fish, etc., sometimes anthropomorphized, nearly always complimented with a very human emotion or desire.  Nature and humanity are often inextricable.

여우와 여우 사이
별과 별 사이
마음과 마음 사이

그 사이가 없는 곳으로 가고 싶다

물과 물고기에게는 사이가 없다
바다와 파도에는 사이가 없다
새와 날개에는 사이가 없다

나는 너에게로 가고 싶다
사이가 없는 그곳으로

<여우 사이>에서

In this excerpt, the poet laments there being a “distance” between everything in the world – between vixens, between stars, between hearts.  But he soon realizes there are some things that are truly inseparable – there is no distance between fish and the water they swim in, between the ocean and its waves, between a bird and its wings.  Likewise, the poet wants to exist in a place where there will be no distance between himself and his lover.

What I love about Ryu’s poetry is how deeply I can feel in response to it.  Many of his poems are tinged with a wistfulness, a slight melancholy that makes you introspect on your own life, your own mistakes and regrets.  Every one of his poems has touched a visceral sadness within me.  But at the same time, they are not depressing.  Rather, they let you embrace and accept the emotion and move past it in some way.  Perhaps that’s just me.

소금별에 사는 사람들은
눈물을 흘릴 수 없네
눈물을 흘리면
소금별이 녹아 버리기 때문
소금별 사람들은
눈물을 감추려고 자꾸만
눈을 깜박이네
소금별이 더 많이 반짝이는 건
그 때문이지

<소금별>

Reading this one makes me think of Le Petit Prince.  You know that saying that says the saddest people smile the brightest?  That’s what I thought of when I read this poem.  This poem is for the people whose eyes shine bright with tears held back, because shedding them would mean shattering the illusion of contentment they’ve worked so hard to build.  Ah yes.