Born in Ulchin, North Kyongsang Province, in 1946, Kim Myo※ng-in graduated in 1969 from the Department of Korean Language and Literature of Korea University where he continued to study, receiving his Ph.D. in 1985. He was for a time Professor at Kyo※nggi University and is now Professor of Creative Writing at Korea University. His poetic career began in 1973 when he won the Chungang Ilbo's Spring Literary Contest. In 1975 he organized a group known as 'Pansi'(Anti-poetry) with fellow-poets Kim Chang-wan, Yi Dong-sun, and Cho※ng Ho-su※ng, which played a major role in the development of Korean poetry in the 1970s, by insisting that poetry should offer a true picture of life. His published volumes include Dongduch'o※n (1979), Mo※namo※n Swannee (Far-away Swannee, 1988), Padaga u※i changnye (Seaside Funeral, 1997), Kil u※i chimmuk (Silence of the road, 1999). He was awarded the Kim Dal-Chin and the Sowol Poetry Awards in 1992.
Compared with some other poets, Kim Myo※ng-in has published only a small number of poems but he is widely esteemed for the quality of his work. The poets of the 'Pansi' group were particularly influential in the 1970s and 1980s, and the high reputation Kim Myo※ng-in enjoys today derives mainly from the poems he published at that time. Continuing a tradition initiated in the 1960s by such poets as Kim Su-yo※ng, he rejected the effete abstractions of the Symbolist or Imagist schools in favour of a poetry closely connected to the painful realities of daily life. So it was only natural that his first volume, Dongduch'o※n, should be inspired by stories told by orphans,and on the poet's own experience as a teacher in that town, home of a large American base with its related population of women and mixed-race children. In his second volume, the material is more directly autobiographical, recalling the immense poverty and near-starvation his family had to endure when he was a child. Yet the poems are not without a certain nostalgia.
After a time spent in the United States in 1989, his poetry turned to more general topics of personal experience, often inspired by desert or marine landscapes. He is very much in the lyrical tradition, and his poems often defy rules of grammar or logical coherence as present fuses with memories of the past, or words evoke other quite unrelated words. At times, the effect is of almost epic or archetypal quality.
The long alley is observing the night
as it flows like a river into the dusk.
For a long while I rowed my boat into that turmoil
out into the middle of the stream, but the river
abruptly changed its direction, erased its path
and finally I have come back with my eddies pushed inside.
By day the wind swept through the acacia groves
up on the hills, so now they're in darkness
are the trees still trying to calm their top branches?
Like this question, challenging the hours of silence,
that rises so to speak in this present scene,
an image rises with one window as background :
one person walks darkly
into part of the window then vanishes from the scene
and for a while nobody else
appears in that direction .
I reflect on that person's chance appearance,
but it is inexpressible; in the end that's what silence is like.
I am considering just that one window's breadth of darkness.
In it, the breeze
is blowing inside, and outside too.
The path has already been erased until it cannot be discerned
but we all have moments when we must listen in tears
to the silence of the swarming path inside ourselves.
Each of the people gathered for the funeral has come bearing
one island on their shoulders; at the sight of the smoke
being stripped away by the wind as it touched dry land, they realize
that the funeral has already begun but
have we ever had any festival
greater than a funeral?
Dissolving, trampled, rejected,
gathering in low places, the accumulated salt of a billion years,
everyone knows that the sea moves in salt but
nobody says it.
Death is surging inside me too as cloudy green waves.
If you are not rotten, if sorrow's antiseptic is not all exhausted,
see that crimson twilight sparkling on the salt.
Sometimes death charges in, waves breaking, eager to devour the islands.
Three feet, three inches, the fish will linger
near the islands. There is no one among us
who knows the world beneath the sea.
Let's waste no more energy trying to ransack things said
by the dead who have sunk into the sea, but simply put on the belt
of ecstatic waves that fully smash the shoreline
and reduced to the sluggishly setting sun, slipping
down the western sky, slowly emptying
At the tips of the eaves of Anjong Temple's Jade Lotus Hermitage
with their ancient painted designs, fish dangle pointing in all directions
fastened by their fins
as if swimming inside the wind bells.
The islands in those bronze seas are choking, far across the echoing space,
but as the fish strike the bell, striving to smash the place they cannot reach,
they have already sent thousands of brassy welcoming chimes
out onto the wings of the wind.
And with their swinging the sky grows bruised, as if snow will soon come.
Unable to get free of this incarnation, some woman
just now lit the candles with trailing tails before a pagoda
and is now making countless full-bodied prostrations.
Bending and stretching like the shadow of the clove tree,
she drops to the ground inside the hall, then collapses in the courtyard.
Near the sea, this is a temple
that enables the human desire to be gone
to flow beyond from the yearning heart
after ringing out from the brass wind bells.
Treading a thinly-frozen blue, some birds
seem to be flying on the far side
of a heavenly river we have never known.
Now it is morning and are you watching
those birds, transformed to interrogation, dropping to the fields?
The first day of winter and as the hitherto strongly
attached leaves all fall together from the trees,
one bird flies off, piercing
the bustling autumn's emptiness and such; not that I saw that bird
transcending interrogation but intending to weep.
It's off to the ends of the sky.
As if by a bird we can know sorrow's depths,
in that empty void
the bird loops the loop again and again
pausing a moment then flying on again.
The Maritime Province of Siberia 3
I have chosen to live on the projecting edge of a bay
from where I can see the sea both to the west and to the east.
The sun keeps setting in the east, so that for a while
this confusion of knowledge about the distinction between directions
while at home down in the south-west, Mother will surely be looking out
from the entrance to the village, wating for me to come in the direction of the sun
The deep-coloured dawn was so bright and all day today
there were many moments when it was plain that seen from here all my life
has come flowing in the direction of illusion.
Finally the setting sun was hidden between the islands,
that confusion there, spreading conviviality like morning daybreak.