Saturday, August 30, 2014

A Pen Against the Sword

The Korean Patriot poet Sang haw Lee's desk in his home in Daegu, photo by J. Berta
Greetings All:

On August 15th, South Korea celebrated its independence day.  At first, I thought this was related to the end of the Korean War, er, I mean "police action."  However, instead, it represents Korean independence from Imperial Japan at the end of World War II.

Korea suffered under Japanese rule as is the fate of an occupied nation.  Japan was a mighty military power and it would have been folly to oppose them directly.  Still, resistance comes in many forms.  One such form was in the poetry of the Korean nationalist poet Sang-hwa Lee.  

Lee was a school teacher and studied French literature.  Ironically, he spent time in Japan studying his chosen profession.  He had plans to head to France.  Instead, he returned home.  He could not ignore the events unfolding in his homeland.  There, he chose to apply his talents to oppose the oppression of Japanese rule.  He did so with his words.

One of his famous early poems, written in 1926, is "Does Spring Come to a Deprived Land."  It is here that he takes the fight to his enemy.  Some of the more poignant lines are the following:

"Does spring come to this land no more our own, to these stripped fields?

Bathed in the sun I walk as if in a dream along a lane that cuts across paddy fields like parted hair to where the blue sky and the green field meet.

Mute heaven and silent fields, I do not feel I have come here alone; tell me if I am driven by you or by some hidden force… '' 

Japan took notice of him and not in a good way.  He was jailed.  Almost certainly more painful for a writer was the confiscation of his manuscripts.  He died in 1943, not living to see his home free.  Still, through his poems he did not lose his resolve to fight back.  From his words, others took strength.  

The man could write, without question.  I suspect he likely could have escaped his country's suffering, his talent his passport to a more comfortable and possibly celebratory existence.  He might have even lived past his 43 years.  But he chose a different path.  He went home and fought back in the only way he could.  

So here's to the memory of Sang-hwa Lee and his poems.  He was the pen against the sword.

Be well my friends,

Sources:  (site is in Korean, several references for this post from a brochure obtained at Mr. Lee's home/historic site in Daegu.

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