The writer generally known as Lee Sang was born Kim Hae-gyeong in Seoul in 1910 and was trained as an architect. During his short literary career he showed an interest first in poetry, turning out some highly idiosyncratic and experimental pieces, and then short fiction and anecdotal essays. In the fall of 1936 he journeyed to Tokyo, where he soon ran afoul of the authorities and was imprisoned. He died of tuberculosis in a Tokyo hospital in 1937.
His "Nalgae"(Wings, 1936) is one of the best-known modern Korean stories. Whether its read as an allegory of colonial oppression, an existential withdrawal from the absurdities of contemporary life, an extended suicide note, or simply the degradation of a kept man, it is strikingly imaginative.
Lee Sang was a writer ahead of his time. While his debt to Western and Japanese modernism is evident, recent scholarship has investigated the influence of traditional Korean literature on his work. Since the 1970s his critical reputation has soared. In the 1995 issue of the review Muae(U.S. edition), the translator of the poems published below writes: "Lee Sang characterized himself as split between 'the 19th century's solemn morality' and 20th-century modernity, labeling himself a 'vagrant who slipped into a crack between the centuries with the sole intent of collapsing there.' What this typically self-deprecating remark omits is his undaunted, far from vagrant development of a new, intensely melded Korean idiom that exploited the particular recursive possibilities of the language, as well as its compendious, richly nuanced lexicon. For all their pranks and provocations, the poems' underlying designs are deft explorations of patterns of repetition and divergence, identity and repression, desire and dissipation. Yi Sang's work stands as an important sign of the greatly underestimated range and vigor of Korean responses to the influx of modernist culture, both high and low."
Dead center of an open field there is a flowering tree. In the neighborhood
not even one That flowering tree with as much ardor as it thought about its
thought-about tree opened ardently its blossoms and stood It cannot go to
the tree it thinks about Wildly I fled For the sake of one flowering tree I
really went that far to make such uncommon mimicry.
I Wed a Toy Bride
From the soft skin of the toy bride there arises now and then a milky
fragrance. It looks like she plans to have a baby before long. Snuffing out the
candle, I draw close to her ear and as if scolding her whisper,
"You smell, dear, just like a newborn babe..."
In the dark the toy bride gets angry and answers,
"Took a walk to the dairy farm and back."
Could it be the toy bride is back from memorizing all the many colors of
the daytime scenery? Burns in my chest like my little address book. Because
in this way I can only sniff nutrients in through the nose, I'm getting more
and more emaciated.
Whenever I give the toy bride a sewing needle the toy bride stabs wildly
at anything around. The calendar. A book of poems. The clock. Also the
place that is so worthwhile for my body my accumulated experience to
enter and sit around in.
This constitutes evidence of thorns growing in the toy bride's heart. That
is, like a rose...
Blood oozes from my thin armor. To treat the wound I eat a fresh
mandarin orange in the dark. Sporting nothing on her body but a ring,
opening the darkness like a curtain, the toy bride comes searching for me. I
am quickly found out. When the ring touches my skin I mistake it for a
sewing needle and recoil in pain.
The toy bride lights a candle and searches for the mandarin orange.
I pretend to not hurt and not know what's going on.
From Crow's-eye View:
POEM NO. I
POEM NO. VI
Parrots ¡Ø 2 mates
¡Ø Parrots belong to the class of Mammalia.
All I kno-ow of these 2 is that I cannot kno-ow these 2. I will, of course,
Parrots 2 mates
"Is this young lady the wife of the gentleman Yi Sang?" "That's right."
I watched the parrot fly into a rage right there. I was embarrassed and
Parrots 2 mates
I had been banished, of course. Not banished so much as in voluntary
withdrawal. My body had completely lost its bearings, was wandering off
in whatever direction and so, I wept my trivial tears.
"There is there." "Me." "Mine-Ah-You and me."
sCANDAL, so-called: What is it? "You..." "It's you!"
"You, right?" "It's you." "No, it's you!"
Completely drenched, I made off like a wounded beast. Of course, there
was no one who kne-ew about this or saw what happened but still really
that they said those things, that they said even that.
POEM NO. XI
That porcelain cup resembles my skull. I am holding the cup tight with
my hand when out of my arm another absurd arm sprouts like a grafted
branch and the hand pending from that arm grabs the cup in a flash and
hurls it over my shoulder to the floor. Since my arm is defending the cup to
the death, the shattered pieces of course are my skull which resembles the
porcelain cup. If my arm had budged before the branching arm crept like a
snake back into it the white paper holding back the flood water would have
torn. But just as before my arm defends the porcelain cup to the death.
POEM NO. XII
A pile of soiled laundry flies up into the air and drops. It is a flock of
white doves. Propaganda that, on the other side of this piece of the sky the
size of one's palm, the war is over and peace has come. One piled-up flock
of doves cleans the filth from its feathers. On this side of the sky the size of
one's palm, it becomes the beginning of a war that pounds and slaughters
the flock of white doves with a baton. If it gets dirtied by black soot in the
air, the flock of white doves flies off again to the other side of the palm-sized