Lee So¢¨ng-bu was born in Kwangju, South Cholla Province in 1942. He graduated from the Korean Department of Kyonghee University, Seoul. He works as a journalist in the Hanguk Ilbo. He began his literary career in 1961, when poems including "Somoui pam" were recommended and published in the review Hyondae Munhak. His published volumes of poetry include Yi Songbu Sichip (1969), Uriturui yangsik (1974), Paekjehaeng (1977), Chonya (1981), Pin san twie tugo (1989). His most recent volume, Yagan Sanhaeng, was published in 1996.
He has chosen not to make private experience the subject of his poems. Instead, following the more radical social traditions of modern Korean poetry, he has written many poems depicting most vividly the dark realities and the harsh life of the oppressed rural poor. The setting for these poems is mainly Cholla Province or the old Paekje Kingdom, both places associated with pain and oppression. His emotional response is a deep and loving sympathy for the victims of alienation.
A critic has written : "Although he views those things from a Realistic viewpoint, he does not simply denounce them or turn them into abstractions through brutal applications of ideology; instead, he has been able to give them an inner dimension based on the objective correlative, thanks to his gifts of literary imagination and his talents as a craftsman."
Lee's poetic voice is characteristically strong and vigorous. While much Korean poetry is spoken in an agonized feminine style, he is not afraid to affirm the possibility if resistance. At the same time, he admits frankly his own limitations, and openly confesses that he is more bourgeois than any spokesman for the Minjung should be. He often insists that although the present is dark and painful, there is hope for the future. Yet after the tragic events marking the Kwangju Uprising in May 1980, he remained silent for several years and his tone became noticeably darker.
Let's be off to the hills.
Let's be off, to get ground into grains of sand.
Climbing up into hills
means to set off anew in quest of love,
and that once encountered, to govern myself harshly.
Means to set off to gain
our wider heaven,
to demolish ourselves
and bring ourselves to repeated rebirth!
Let's be off to the hills.
Not some hills glimpsed from afar
but close, close enough to rub ourselves on them.
Let's be off to smash ourselves
If you come to Nanjido, Orchid Island,
on the outskirts of Seoul with its beautiful name,
once here, if you sniff the air
and inspect the village where they live, you realize.
If you come to Nanjido
and gaze up at Korea's bright October sky,
rubbing your eyes, you realize.
You realize it? a matter of No, No, No.
If you come to Nanjido,
as you raise your glass of soju
to let the swarms of flies have a taste, and see how
people wash their hopes's hands and feet in stinking pools,
you realize just why Korea's bright October sky, overwhelmed
with grief, screams out its blazing twilight glow.
You realize why it longs to smash itself to bits.
After playing games buried in garbage, urchins
lie on top of the garbage dump and stare at the sky.
School-girls in uniform get off at Susaek terminal
and walk three miles, then another three beyond the dump,
before entering a hovel built of garbage.
When night falls
people flock home in dust-clouds that cover the sky,
carrying torches like those once borne by protesting rebels,
all day long the radio here goes yeya diya,
kong cha-cha, kong cha-cha,
women dab on some perfume,
rub clean their stinking menfolk's chests.
Seoul's enormous rubbish tip,
dogs, pigs, all beasts choke and raise a cry.
People and garbage closely joined
whisper of love amidst swarms of flies,
hosts of flowers bloom,
sigh for breezes, sigh for rain.
If you come to Nanjido,
meet the people,
inspect their village, you realize.
You realize why it's all plain No
No No Never.
Rice plants join together
and depend on one another.
The more scorching the sunbeams grow,
the more fully they mature, take care of themselves,
entrusting themselves to their neighbors.
See them there, all the sturdier
as they gird each other about.
See those hearts, all the more ardent
for innocently committing crimes. When the rice plants
dance, silently they take their leave.
Rice plants know the art of cheerful self-control,
washing sorrowing eyes beneath the autumn skies,
decking their own displeasure
with a gust of wind.
They know how their breasts are ablaze.
This vast vast love
that the rice plants offer as they take their leave,
as they fall, fall, yet rise again, offering
this blood-stained yearning,
this ample strength...
You come though I am not expecting you,
and you come when I have lost all expectation.
After lingering in a corner of the fields
or beside some kind of stinking pond,
looking around a bit, enjoying a fight,
throwing yourself down worn out
then being shaken awake by a breeze
speeding by bearing urgent news,
rubbing your eyes, you come slowly ambling.
At last you come, ambling along, ambling along.
When I see you I am so dazzled
I am unable to stand up to welcome you.
I open my mouth to shout, but I have grown tongue-tied;
I can tell you nothing ahead of time.
With difficulty, my arms open wide to embrace you,
arriving home after victory far away.
This rock smells of an unfamiliar mind.
It smells of a firm yet gentle loneliness.
Perhaps because wandering spirits have paused here?
The rags they left flap, raising the wind,
then that wind summons a yet stronger wind
that makes me waver;
it tries to hurl me over the cliff.
But I am accustomed at such times
to cling to the shoulders of refusal.
Old rock, topmost skin of our land,
at last I cling to you, then smash myself on you,
and as my body rubs against yours,
you force me to open my eyes anew.
Lightly, lightly, if I listen hard,
old rock, the sound of hot blood within your flesh,
our one body grows warm
and thanks to my wounds I realize
what is the path you open for me!