Lee Keum-bae was born in 1940, in Tangjin, South Ch'unch'ong Province He spent his youth in Tangjin and graduated from Sorabol Art College. He revealed a precocious talent while still at Sorabol by winning literary competitions in various genres in five newspapers. His literary activity has centered in shijo and poetry. He was the publisher of "Korean Literature"; he is a director of Korean PEN and a professor at Chungang University. "Song and Song", "The Remarks of the Stone Turtle in the East Sea" and "The Han River" are among his major collections of poems.

Orpheus and his magic flute had the power to waken nature from sleep or to put nature back to sleep. He even put to sleep the Prince of Darkness guarding the gates of Hell. Lee Keun-bae's poems have the magical properties of Orpheus' flute. His language has the double ability to awaken or to lull to sleep. We experience the creative tension of the poems in the use of a paradoxical language which puts to sleep things that are awake and wakens up things that are asleep. The early poems dealing with the devastation of the Korean War show us a world of feeling where history and nature have changed places. War becomes rivers and flowers. Conversely rivers and flowers become war trenches. The tints of favorite language choices demonstrate this inversion. He gives the most abstract meaning to the most concrete language, and gives the real smell of the flesh to even the most conceptual language. Artificial language and the language of nature are used in easy congruence to provide a rich feast of the imagination.

This is also true of Lee Keum-bae's use of metaphor and rhythm. Metaphor and rhythm in the poems are not at all fussy, and yet they are not easy because there is always an underlying quotient of irony.

Lee Keum-bae shows us acrobatic feats of language, cross¦¡grained and beautiful; it wakens us when we wish to sleep and puts to sleep when we are awake. After all, he has the flute of Orpheus.





Why I Sing the Mountain


Though you stand there, lifeline severed,

ruminating the solitude,

the sound of your blood boiling down echoes in my ear,

as does the sound of your flesh being digested.

Life¦¡in¦¡death mountain,

you are a giant living thing.


I would dig a grave in your yellow clay,

rebury my sorrow there,

sound a thousand strings, sound them

so that they never sound again.

I would take the sorrow

from grasses and trees.


Every blast of wind and rain theat comes

though you fight the favor.

The mountain cannot cry out;

it seems nightmared in sleep's depths.




Surface, Submerge



In sleep the head of my bed is invariably a noisy sea.

Dreams dip into the currents, pop to the surface again.

By morning I'm a lonely is land far from the shore.


The waves of this sad time grate:

my soul blows as a wind through the night.

I open my eyes to discover another solitary day:surface, submerge.






R's Epitaph

He shouts no more;

nor does he call.


The confusion of the many

flower blooming, flower falling days



is heard as


in the depths of dream.


Love that stung

the eye,

love born of unending sorrow,



mountain bound,

eternity bound.



I cannot cross;

I cannot count the imponderables.





Solitary Days


Days when flowers bloom for me in profusion of feeling,

a snow-rain clouds my eyes as I behold the blooming flowers,

days ending in thoughts of you several years now without news.


Hopeless days filled with regret

when the breath of life seems lifted on a gossamer wind

and I bury myself in your sadness

ruminating solitude in a distant land.