[FOUNTAIN]Three lines of verse can live forever

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[FOUNTAIN]Three lines of verse can live forever

The three-line poem is a playful literary device that has long been enjoyed by the common people. To become popular, it has to have a certain poignant sarcasm. A recent four-line poem about the National Assembly was circulated widely because it precisely summed up what the citizens had been thinking. According to the poem, the assemblymen are “Making fools of the citizens / Swaggering at the assembly hall / Ignoring people’s opinions / And believing that the more complaints they get, the more respected they are.”
The three-line poem has gone in and out of fashion. When something absurd happened, or people were not allowed to say what they wanted to, it came out in a poem. In June 1987, when Roh Tae-woo was named to succeed military-backed former President Chun Doo Hwan, a pungent poem emerged: “I am a baby pollack / I was caught in the Pacific / Aren’t I laughable?”
Having made fools of the citizens with lies, Mr. Roh, the baby pollack, was a formidable enemy in a different way from Mr. Chun. The June Resistance of 1987 turned the whole country upside down, until Mr. Roh promised to restore democracy on June 29. Koreans are left with vivid, emotional memories. There was one picture that brought people out into the streets. A handsome young man’s nose and mouth were bleeding, and he was leaning over toward a fellow student, who was embracing him. Twenty-year-old Lee Han-yeol had been struck by a tear gas grenade while crying, “End the dictatorship!” Mr. Lee’s death was more powerful than his life. Based on his sacrifice, Korea took the first step toward democratization.
The Lee Han-yeol Memorial, which opened yesterday in Seoul’s Mapo district, is a house dedicated to the soul of a young man who set the fire for the June Resistance. It is the first memorial for a democratic fighter built with citizens’ donations. Displayed are the bloodstained clothes and sneakers he wore when he fell 18 years ago, and his poem: “Are you going? / Where are you headed? / Taking the chain under your back / In your hands, where are you going?” As a survivor, I dedicate this three-line poem to Lee Han-yeol: “Lee Han-yeol is / Koreans’/ Joy.”


by Chung Jae-suk

The writer is a deputy culture news editor for the JoongAng Ilbo.
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