Essays

Overview: The Lasting Impression of Short Poems
Ⅰ. We stand in awe if a speaker gives a speech that is brief but deeply meaningful. It goes without saying that we feel the same when the pinnacle of expression is achieved in poetry, where thought and feeling are compressed to the greatest possible extent and delivered in cadences. Writers of classical Korean literature were particularly skilled at expressing profound sentiment in short poems. These poems included four- and eight-line classical Chinese verse, and also sijo , a form limited to only three verses, that is, three lines. These writers incorporated the principles of nature and the universe as...
Part Ⅰ. Classical Korean Poetry
In Search of the Essence of Sijo Suppose a Korean writer is participating in an international literary conference. And suppose there is a foreign writter who happens to ask him or her about the traditional literary genre of Korea. Most likely, sijo will come into his or her mind, for it is the extant poetic form that is still enjoyed in Korea ever since it emerged about 700 years ago. On mentioning sijo , the Korean writer will probably be asked what kind of literary genre sijo is. More often than not, he or she may not find a satisfactory...
Part Ⅱ. Beloved Short Poems
Short Poems by Korea’s Best-Known Poets Korean poets have been writing modern verse for over a hundred years, beginning in the early twentieth century after an influx of Western free verse arrived via Japan. Gradually, the poems have lost their musicality, and they’ve become longer and more abstruse. Whereas many tradition-oriented poets have given us outstanding short works, many of the Western-leaning poets have written long poems. Representative of the former group are Kim Sowol and Seo Jeong-ju. Mother and Sisters Mother and sisters, we’ll live together by the river with a sandbar blooming golden for our garden and reeds...
Part Ⅲ. Extreme Lyricism Movement
Principles and Potential of Extreme Lyricism in Korean Poetry In the Korean literary scene lately there has been enthusiastic debate about what is known as “lyricism.” Such debate begins from critical reflection upon the way that the prominent concept of the lyric relies too heavily upon European aesthetics, which in turn, stems from the custom of a system of classification separating lyric, narrative, and drama. Indeed, theories of poetics throughout Korean literary circles all explain the principles of lyricism in similar ways: internalizing the external, lasting ephemerality, self-identity, or the abundant present tense. Therefore, while narrative explores the disconnect in...
Part Ⅳ. The “Dicapoem” Movement
Digital Communication and the “ Dicapoem ” Movement Dicapoem: A Multi-Language Art Form Poetry read from a printed text is the product of print communications that came to flourish following the invention of the Gutenberg letterpress in the fifteenth century. The large-scale circulation of knowledge and information made possible by print communication paved the way for the Renaissance, the Reformation, and subsequent civil revolutions that, in the end, led to the dawn of modernity. It is in this context that the history of humanity can be said to coincide with the evolutionary history of media technology. By opening up a...
Shining a Light on the Shadow of Globalization through Shamanism
The Eurocentric narrative of world history began to be questioned during the Enlightenment in the eighteenth century. Johann Gottfried Herder resisted the Western-centric “universal history”with his statement “that which is ethnic is worldly” and promoted the right of non-Western peripheries to historical sovereignty. Going further, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe advocated the concept of “World Literature” ( Weltliteratur ) with the idea that it holds a great purpose for the Progress of Man when ethnic literature crosses national boundaries and becomes a tool for communicating with the world. Hwang Sokyong has worked passionately to help realize that“ethnic literature is world literature”—an...
My Mother’s Story
The Light That Kept Watch over Me The doors in our home were never closed. They’d always be left open no matter what the season, when we were all crammed into a tiny house, or even when we moved into a more spacious home where we had separate rooms to ourselves. The sole reason for this was that Mother found closed doors stifling. I never understood why she was the one to feel stifled when it was my door that was closed. Until I graduated from high school and left home, that all-so-common cordless phone never showed up in our...
Where Can the Anxious Bird Build Its Nest? - Oh Junghee’s The Bird
“People say they’d like to return to their late teens or early twenties and start again, but I’d never want to revisit that age. I wouldn’t have the confidence to relive that painful time of uncertainty, anxiety, dread, and horror muddled together.” Oh Junghee told me this in private. Already many years have passed, but my memory of our conversation is still vivid. At the time, I was envious to the point of jealousy seeing university freshmen in the bloom of youth. I was anxious to return to those days and start my life over. For this reason, I was...
Centennial Celebration of Three Korean Literary Greats
Art Extending Beyond the Finitude of Life This year we are observing the centennial anniversary of an unusually large number of writers in the field of modern Korean literature: poets Pak Mogwol and Seo Jeong-ju; novelists Hwang Sun- Won, Lim Ok-in, and Lim Sun-deuk; playwright Ham Se-deok; children’s writer Kang So-cheon; and critic Kwak Jong-won. A hundred years ago, it was 1915, a time of unrelenting cruelty, five years into the annexation of Korea by Japan. These writers celebrated national liberation when they turned thirty, after passing their childhood and youth under Japanese occupation. They went on to endure the...
Shamanism in the Fiction of Hwang Sun-Won
An overview of Hwang Sun-Won’s fiction Hwang Sun-Won (1915-2000) is one of the great Korean authors of the twentieth century. Hwang started writing in 1931, publishing his first poem, “My Dream,” at the age of sixteen, and by June 1936, he had published two volumes of poetry. But with the publication of a collection of short stories in 1937, he started anew as a writer of fiction. Since that time, immersing himself in the writing of fiction for over fifty years, Hwang managed to avoid being caught up in fashions of the times and stayed consistently true to the course...

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