Lee Su-ik

Lee Su-ik was born in 1942 in South Kyongsang Province and he began to write poetry while he was in Middle School. Some of his early poems won an award offered by a magazine for youth and were published there. In 1963 he won the spring literary award for poetry offered by the Seoul Shinmum, so becoming a recognized adult poet. His first collection of poems, Uulhan chanson (Sad song) was published in 1969. In all he has published seven volumes of poetry, including a selection of earlier work Kurigo norul uihayo (And for you, 1987), Adukhan pom (Distant spring, 1990), and P'urun ch'uokui ppang (Bread of blue memories, 1995). He has been awarded a number of major literary prizes: the Hyondae Munhak (Contemporary Poetry) Prize in 1986, Korean Literary Award in 1987, the Chong Chi-yong Prize in 1995.

Lee Su-ik is essentially an Imagist, less concerned with moral than with aesthetic responses to life. His poems have developed from early works that were content to evoke scenes encountered in life, toward a stronger suggestion of the contrast and tension between the world as it is and the world as it might be ideally. The resultant pathos is always delicately handled and never turns into the sharpness of satire. Critics have hailed the metrical and musical qualities of his language, features which are inevitably lost in translation.
He is a producer with KBS Radio.

Trees revisited

what made the enormous dinosaurs disappear
from off the face of the earth
was not some kind of even fiercer beasts
or reptiles, or
human beings,

but soft and silent plants, the huge trees
in the Jurassic and Cretaceous forests
that the dinosaurs used to munch freely in their hunger?

In that case trees are really frightening things.
To outward appearance they merely stand there tamely,
vacant and seemingly stupid

but behind their silence there lies
a burning determination of revenge
clasping a sharpened blade that rips and stabs

so, now I look again,
the trees I have seen hitherto
have become quite different trees

eye for eye, tooth for tooth...
a deep trap
underlying trees' unwavering stillness,
quite breathtaking in their instinctive retaliation!

A flag

There have been times
when my heart has gone fluttering madly

at the sight of a flag. There have been times
when my heart has crumpled like a flag
crumpling as it fluttered in the wind

and I longed to have it stream out
fresh and blue. At times like those
I was a youthful river setting out
on a long journey.

Today too a flag is fluttering
at the top of a lofty mast in the azure sky,
seeming to writhe in all its length. Only

this time I simply kept my heart
utterly still and soft like a carpet.

Before my eyes the flag
was clearly flapping strongly but now
my heart does not stream out with its former exhilaration.

It's because I have already
reached the twilit shore and besides,
for such a long time the flag
has kept deceiving me.

Plea for a stuffed tiger

Once my claws
scratched the forest.
My starvation-like roars
tore harshly at the valleys' flesh
while my two eyes, that glowed more brightly crimson
as the night advanced,
glittered with murderous battle-lust.

I made the forest tremble.
I cleaved rocks in twain.
I filled the nights with such fear
that the fur of wild beasts stood on end.
I am the forest's emperor.


Now here in front of this museum
where stillness gathers like dust,
with old fluorescent lights flickering
at the end of distant memories,
I stand dead
like a still from a slowed-down video.
Inside my skin my flesh of hardened plaster
is tight with grief.
My fierce prowling, that once
wound about the high mountains ranges
like lightning, like thunder,
is now confined within a transparent glass case
marked 'Do not touch'.
I will not term this state unlucky, only


since I am now dead, I wish I was not standing up
but set with knees gently folded.
I wish these utterly good-for-nothing sharp claws
had been extracted,
the splendor of whiskers and teeth destroyed.
I wish my two eyes were quietly shut as in sleep.
Ah, if only my futile power was not displayed; please,
if only...


First God
made the ocean.
From God's heart a river curving
and flowing like a vein
soon reached the appointed place,
where it lifted up thousands and thousand of hands
in an image of ardent pleading to heaven,
as God
made the ocean of motherhood.

Next God made the dry land.
In the image of his
moving muscles the dry land stretched gasping
tangled together
awaiting the appearance of the shape of sacred Eros,
as God
made the dry land.

After which, following several days of thought,
blushingly covered the land with forests
to hide its projecting organs of desire
a few islands here and there as consolation
for the sea that throbbed endlessly in blind desire.

Only then did God smile in satisfaction
as he made the last touch
to his creation.


I like low tides.
I will not look for times of fullness.

All the ugly wounds along the shore
are mine,
the vacantly pierced spaces of despair
are mine,
so let me stay here
on this damp grim shore.

Nowadays let me
never again grow drunk
at the sound of waves so like the call of blood.
I detest the hour of the incoming tide,
seemingly ready to brim over with gasping cries,
rising as if intent on brimming over.

Translated by Brother Anthony of Taize