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.