Born in Sachon, South Kyongsang Province, in 1933, Lee
Hyong-ki graduated from the Buddhist Studies Department of Dongguk University,
Seoul, in 1956. He worked as a journalist in a number of newspapers and
rose to be editor-in-chief of the Kukje Shinmun. He later became Professor
of Korean Literature at Dongguk University.
He has published many volumes of poetry, after first
collaborating in the anthology Haenomokagi chonui kido (Prayer before sunset,
1955). Important volumes include Chokmak kangsan (Solitary land, 1963),
Tolpeigaeui kido (Prayers of a stone pillow, 1971), Pomulsomui chido (Map
of Treasure Island, 1985), Shimyaui ilgiyeibo (Midnight Weather-forecast,
1990). He has also published a number of volumes of critical writing, including
Kamsongui Nolli (The logic of emotion, 1976), and Hyondaeshi Ch'angjakkyosil
(How to write modern poetry, 1991).
In his earlier work, Lee Hyong-ki focuses on elements
of the natural landscape perceived by a solitary subject. The lyricism
is traditional, marked by elements of pathetic fallacy, while the human
subject finds, in a closer harmony with nature, a new awareness of human
finitude and mortality. The themes are universal: twilight and the withering
of flowers indicate the transience of existence, the silent contemplation
of trees and hills makes us aware of our essential solitude.
In later poems, however, he echoes other forms of experience
as he passes from romantic nihilism to a deeper, more philosophical nihilism.
The outside universe becomes more threatening, peopled with monsters and
dark shadows that threaten the subject at every moment. Death looms, and
in it there are dimensions of violent sensuality to be explored. There
is a sense in which the poem itself, once achieved, becomes the only possible
form of resistance against ever-threatening despair.
What can be more beautiful than the departing
figure of one who knows precisely
when the time to depart has come?
Now in high spring
my love, having endured its passion,
is wilting away.
enveloped in the blessings that parting brings
now that it is time to depart,
off toward thick summer greenery,
and then, very soon,
My springtime is dying like a flower.
So let us part,
waving delicately, some day
when petals are falling heedlessly.
My love, my parting,
grieving eyes of my soul maturing
as water slowly brims in mountain springs.
When I lean on you with
unfathomably contradictory thoughts,
inevitably provokes an image:
The transparency of my window!
Day after day
quietly shutting out
time that flows past like water.
Now you link with eternity the fact
that some day all things
must be buried in oblivion's shade,
as if suggesting the reason why we live.
Gateway to mystery: all complex desires
you take all this world's trivial daily events
and put them in their proper place.
Then every night unfailingly I
find silence, window, thanks to you
I foster waiting eyes, enduring
on and on, and do not despair.
This mountain calmly steeps in rain.
There is none can ever weigh
the weight that thrones in autumn rain:
bottomless, endless falling autumn rain.
Its visage veiled in misty vision,
the mountain reveals nothing but a silhouette,
while a thousand years and more of time
are steeping together in an afternoon of autumn rain.
Wrapped in this abyss-like solitude,
perhaps asleep or nearly so,
eyes half-closed at least
the mountain, steeping in empty absent-minded rain,
has nowhere for the memories of ancient wrath to go.
Towering cliffs and haggard rocks
overwhelmed by just
a single gentle curving line,
while their silhouettes mottled in the autumn rain
as if glimpsed with eyes misted by tears
alas cannot be abolished.
Map of Treasure Island
Spreading a palm I divine tomorrow.
A few lines stubbornly extend alone
converge into one
so my hand carries an indecipherable
map of Treasure Island
like a trail of which
only faint traces remain in dense undergrowth;
the fine lines on my palm are complex as themselves
yet no matter how twisted and tangled they are,
all the paths lead to one spot.
Not to Rome but the ruins of Rome,
toward the precipice beyond my palm
and the certain disaster awaiting me there:
a gust of wind caused by my falling.
With a fist grasping some of that wind
some one is banging on the desk.
Yet I really must find Treasure Island's treasure;
all the paths end in the precipice leading to it,
to the Treasure Island beyond it and
I really must find the cave of treasure
with the pirates' painted skull and crossbones.
even before hearing the midnight weather
forecast on the radio, I feel uneasy.
The wind swollen by ill-temper
carries on its back a trough of low pressure
one thousand and twenty millibars
and blows at fifteen meters per second
as it drives a blizzard up toward the Okhotsk Sea.
A gale warning
banning all shipping from the sea
paralyzing the whole world
takes my breath away like martial law
and the suspiciously acting Kamchatka Peninsula
hangs tied upside-down to the sky
while the Okhotsk Sea raves mad alone:
that midwinter midnight weather forecast
fills me with a snow-storm.
It is grim like a report of
global explosion's D-day
a secret stand-by warning
sent to fin-de-sie™–cle sensibility
from somewhere out near Pluto.
Ready to be ruined
I am gladly ruined
so wind, gales, blow on for just three months and ten
Translated by Brother Anthony