Pak Chae-Sam was born in Tokyo, Japan in, 1933, but he
moved to Samchunpo in Korea, his mother's hometown, when he was four. He
attended the Department of Korean Language and Literature at Korea University
but left without a degree. He established himself as a promising poet by
publishing "In the River" in Munye (Literature and Art) in 1953 and "Providence"
and "Stillness" in Hyundae Munhak (Modern Literature) in 1955. His first
book of poems, The Mind of Chunhyang, was published in 1962. Since then
he has published numerous books of poems including In the Sunshine (1970),
A Thousand Year-old Wind (1975), Besides the Young Ones (1976), The Autumn
Tree Listening to the Rain (1981), My Love (1985), An Autumn River In Tears
Afire (1987), and The Trace of the Sun and the Moon (1990). He has also
won several awards including The Literature of Peace Award in 1987 and
Cho Yeon-Hyun Literature Award in 1988.
Pak Chae-Sam's poetry is a linguistic and artistic celebration
of the indigenous Korean language and the traditional Korean sentiment
called han, sadness and woe suppressed and coagulated in the heart. His
poetry claims that we have to restore a linguistic sense embedded in Korean
language and the archetypal sentiment of han in order to fully develop
the potential of Korean poetry. Pak creates a poetic world full of intimate
and secret conversations and monologues by adopting indigenous, colloquial
language. In his poetry han, often induced by an unattainable or unfulfilled
love, is not something that persists and suppresses the poet forever; it
is usually sublimated into beauty. Pak's poems are also dense with natural
images such as rivers, brooks, trees, leaves, wind, sunshine, and moonlight.
In his poetry, as we can see in the following translations, nature is not
a mere object to appreciate but signifies a perfect world in which principles
of human life and eternal beauty are embodied. Thus, the wandering poet
suffering from archetypal grief and a sense of personal imperfection finds
ultimate consolation and the fundamental truth of life in nature.
Pak Chae-sam's poems have been given unstinted praise
and welcome by the reading public who seek poetry deeply rooted in traditional
Korean sentiments. In fact, he has been recognized by literary critics
as a poet who has successfully addressed traditional Korean sentiments
following Kim So-wol and Suh Jung-joo. Moreover, the simple and beautiful
colloquial language and description of familiar natural scenes have made
him one of the most adored and influential poets in Korea.
That person was my first love.
After kissing me
she couldn't raise her head
I, too, cast my eyes away.
gently swaying in the sky
the fresh seaweed smell permeating
unwittingly my heart in pain,
that smell on my hands remained.
Oh, shame! Oh, writhing!
Look at the stream
drawn through the valley
wearing scales of water
the current is weeping.
Following the weeping current
the overlain moonlight
was also weeping.
River In Tears Afire
When my mind cannot even sit in one place
joining the autumn sunlight as my playmate
I follow a friend's sorrowful story.
Tears come to my eyes as we unwittingly
approach the mountain ridge.
Though the lights at my ancestral home
are lit for our forebears' rites,
I watch the autumn river at sunset in tears afire.
Look at that! Look at that!
Neither you, neither I
Joyful first love, the sound of mountain water disappears,
the sorrow of my next love's end melts away,
now I see for the first time
the silent autumn river
nearing the sea with an unhinging story.
Perhaps it's a persimmon tree,
a tree yielding the fruit of my heart's love
ripening by the sad glow of the sky.
It seems that there's nowhere but the Otherworld
where it can grow as it should
and even there it spreads behind the person I remember
and bends over their head for the last time.
However, I don't know
perhaps this person may become the beloved fruit
they wished to plant in their front yard!
In other words I don't know if they'd even realize
that its color is all my griefs and all my hopes
from a past life!
But, then again,
whether they lived in this world in grief or not
I don't know, I don't know.
A Rainy Day
One afternoon in May
a flowerless magnolia
is drenched in rain.
Bare magnolia with green leaves alone
is drenched in rain.
My broken-hearted sister
her heart wholly torn apart
receiving a letter
from one who cannot come.
Ah, tears pouring from the sky
pooling on the earth
this rainy day!
Behold the waves of leaves
in the sun and breeze!
the waves of your long skirt
touch my giddy head
troubles unravel like a song.
Isn't this not so?
A myriad acts of love and still a thirst unquenched,
bubbles endlessly arising
and even yet endlessly disappearing vanities,
my beautiful one,
should the brilliant love
of that trembling tree be gone,
there's nothing left to do in this world.
Translated by Professor Kang Ja-mo and Frank Tedesco