"I an fond of looking at pictures," Kim Chun-su once wrote, "though I am bad at drawing." This remark suggests the basic nature of his poetry; his poems indeed often look like pictures. His typical poem, however, is not an ordinary one. What he draws with words, as a rule, is tersely simplified and highly refracted. He has mentioned or written about a number of Western painters like Chagall, Miro and Goya. He has also confessed to having acquired certain methodological hints from such painters as Paul Cezanne and even Jackson Pollock.  
Kim Chun-su was born in 1922 in a rich family of Chungmu, a town on the southern coast of Korea. His poetry abounds in sea-imagery, and memories of his childhood persist in his poems with the setting of that seaside town. After finishing primary school in Chungmu, he went up to Seoul to attend what is now Kyonggi High School, one of the most prestigious schools in Korea. But for no reason other than his dislike of the Japanese teacher who was in charge of his class, he quit the school a few months before graduation and went to Tokyo. In Tokyo, he was enrolled in the Department of Arts at Nihon University, but he could not complete his undergraduate course. For he was arrested by the Japanese military police as a 'subversive Korean'and had to spend seven months in police cells in Yokohama and Tokyo. Upon repatriation to Korea, he recuperated and went into hiding in the Diamond Mountains, the most scenic spot in Korea, and in Chungmu till Korea was liberated from Japanese rule in 1945.  
On Korea's liberation, Kim Chun-su started teaching at a high school in his home town, while also participating in local cultural movements with other poets, artists and musicians from the same locale. Towards the end of the 50s, he began teaching at colleges and, from 1961 through 1979, he taught at Kyungbuk University in Taegu. He subsequently taught at Yungnam University from 1979 to 1981, when he was suddenly made, 'without his knowing how it all came about,' a representative of the National Assembly. After his term at the National Assembly, he also served as Chairman of the Broadcasting Deliberation Committee for two years.  
Meanwhile, however, he never stopped writing poetry. His first volume of poems, The Cloud and the Rose, was publised at his own expense in 1948, followed by Swamp in 1950. He has now published, in rapid succession, a dozen volumes of poetry, several volumes of selected and complete poems derived from these, and also several studies of poetry as well as informal essays. During this time, he was recognized with distingished awards, such as the Asian Free Literature Award(1959) and the South Kyongsang Cultural Award(1966). He was elected a member of the Korean Academy of Arts in 1981.  
Kim Chun-su as poet is an avowed purist and experimentalist. From around 1970, he has repeatedly declared that he does not believe in ideas, let alone ideologies, and not even in history. He was most influenced by Rilke in the early phase of his career, but in later years he advocated what he called 'the poetry of no meaning.' The 60s was a transition period between his early phase and later years. The Ballad Tune and Other Poems(1969), his fifth volume of poetry, contains poems of this period which combine the rhythm of certain Korean folk ballads with a technique of word-play as an attempt to critique civilization. 'The poetry of no meaning,' which characterizes his later years, begins in the early the 70s. We note this specifically in the second part of Fragments on Ch'oyong, Written, on and off, over a quarter of a century from the late 60s and published in its entirety in October, 1991.  
The Fragments on Ch'oyong is an oblique autobiographical poem consisting of four parts of varying length and based on a Korean legend. Ch'oyong is a mythic figure, reputedly a son of the dragon King of the Eastern Sea, whose human wife was seduced by an incarnated evil spirit. The poet explains that his Ch'oyong is an individual--implicitly the poet himself--victimized by history. "History in this case." he adds, "represents evil, being a malignant will itself." His view of history, where violence and ideologies are equated with history, derives from his personal experiences. This pessimism brought Kim Chun-su to realize that despair can breed a technique which can console when combined with play. The result is 'the poetry of no meaning.' It has no logic; it is simply a display of free associations or momentary fantasies.  
Between The Ballad Tune and Other Poems and Fragments on Ch'oyong, Kim Chun-su wrote three more volumes of poetry, of which Latin Sketches(1988) concerns his European trips. One of his latest volumes, The Woods that Sleep Standing(1993), is a collection of poems in prose which he describes as 'a chemical combination of realism and anti-realism.' Kim Chun-su, one of the most important living poets in Korea, is now in his mid-seventies and continues to write. The last phase of his poetry is yet to be seen, but we can be certain he will always be original and innovative. 


Whenever the wind shook it,  
the fence  
raised sorrowful sounds.  

Cockscombs, lilies, balsams and the like  
bloomed in season  
and faded without a sound.  

Even in cold midwinter,  
the lonely sunshine dozed  
on the stepping stones  
and was gone.  

Only time kept flowing listlessly;  
people lived as in a dream  
and passed away.  


Until I spoke his name,  
he had been  
no more than a mere gesture.  

When I spoke his name,  
he came to me  
and became a flower.  

Now speak my name,  
one fitting this colour and odour of mine,  
as I spoke his name,  
so that I may go to him  
and become his flower.  

We all wish  
to become something.  
You to me and I to you  
wish to become an unforgettable gaze. 

Prologue for a Flower 

I am now a dangerous animal.  
The moment my hand touches you,  
you become darkness, unknown and remote.  

At the tip of a trembling twig of being,  
you bloom and fall, without a name.  
I weep all through the night  
in this nameless darkness seeping through my eyelids,  
lighting a lamp of remembrance.  

My weeping will gradually turn into a whirlwind,  
shaking a tower,  
and become gold when it penetrates the stone.  
--My bride, her face veiled!  

The Bare Tree; a Prologue to Poetry 

The winter sky vanishes into a mysterious depth;  
the infinite, which may or may not be,  
has dropped the luxuriant foliage and fruits,  
making the fig tree stand bare;  
but might that be poetry  
that is almost, almost reaching the tip  
of the sensitive twig?  
the moment language is asleep,  
without words,  
the infinite comes smiling  
the luxuriant foliage and fruits dropping as historical  
but might that be poetry  
that blinks at the tip  
of the sensitive twig?  

The Snow Falling on Chagall's Village 

Snow falls on Chagall's village, in March.  
At the temple of a man looking forward to spring,  
a new vein  
At the trembling temple of the man,  
caressing the new vein,  
the snow, with thousands of wings,  
descends from heaven, covering  
the roofs and chimneys of Chagall's village.  
When snow falls in March,  
the winter berries of Chagall's village  
revive in olive  
and women make  
the most beautiful fire of the year  
in their ovens.  

Goya's Scream 

The Latin word 'Ars' has tied  
Rubens up.  
he is glad to be tied up.  
VAan Dyke,  
Velazquez, all of them,  
shout that 'Ars' makes the world  
be born anew.  
At Toledo I heard El Greco  
say the same thing.  
He whispered in the dim inner room  
of the house he rented.  
Only Goya felt the pain  
of the iron chain  
eating into his flesh.  
Maja, the woman 'Ars' created,  
had her head cut off,  
and one day  
the outlines of his portraits wore out  
like the Jesus of Rouault.  
They have no background even.  
Go and look!  
His scream is shaking  
the Prado even now.  

Translated by Kim Jong-gil. He is Professor Emeritus of English Literature at Korea University. He is a poet and critic in his own right, and has translated poetry both from and into English. At present, he is a member of the Academy of Arts of the Republic of Korea.