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LEE SANG

 

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."

 

 

 

 

 

Flowering Tree

 

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

1 Evening

 

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.

 

2 Evening

 

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

 

13ChildrenRushdownaStreet.

(AdeadendalleyisSuitable.)

 

The1stChildsaysit's frightening.

The2ndChildsaysit's frightening.

The3rdChildsaysit's frightening.

The4thChildsaysit's frightening.

The5thChildsaysit's frightening.

The6thChildsaysit's frightening.

The7thChildsaysit's frightening.

The8thChildsaysit's frightening.

The9thChildsaysit's frightening.

The10thChildsaysit's frightening.

 

The11thChildsaysit's frightening.

The12thChildsaysit's frightening.

The13thChildsaysit's frightening.

13Childrenwerejustgatheredtogetherlikethataseitherfrightening

orfrightenedChildren.

(TheabsenceofanyotherConditionwashighlypreferable.)

 

IfAmongstthem1ChildisafrighteningChildit'sfine.

IfAmongstthem2ChildrenarefrighteningChildrenit'sfine.

IfAmongstthem2ChildrenarefrightenedChildrenit'sfine.

IfAmongstthem1ChildisafrightenedChildit'sfine.

 

(AthroughstreetisSuitable.)

Evenif13ChildrendonotRushdowntheStreetit'sfine.

 

 

 

 

POEM NO. VI

 

Parrots 2 mates

               2 mates

            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,

keep hoping.

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

probably blushed.

Parrots 2 mates

           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."

"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

sky.