Poems emerge from the mists of time

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Poems emerge from the mists of time

Nine previously unknown poems and novels by prominent Korean writers came to light recently when a local professor discovered them in old military magazines from the 1950s.
The writings are by Suh Jhung-joo (1915-2000), Park Mok-wol (1916-1978), Cho Ji-hun (1920 -1968), and Kim Dong-li (1913-1995) ― all well-known figures in Korean literature whose works are mandatory reading in high school.
These writers cover a tumultuous period in Korean history, starting with decades of Japanese colonial rule, then civil war and the subsequent Cold War standoff with North Korea. Their works deal with these difficult times using broad themes such as nature, sadness, self-reflection, humanism and escapism. Although some critics have given them mixed reviews, saying their writings are politically manipulative, their delicate choice of words have become models for students of Korean literature.
Shin Young-duk, 49, Korean Literature professor at the Korea Air Force Academy, discovered the works over 15 years of research. Mr. Shin found 224 poems and 139 short stories in the military magazines. Nine of the works were unknown. Two of them are poems by Suh Jhung-joo that were published in the magazine “Comet” in 1959, one is a poem by Cho Ji-hun in the magazine “Haegun” (Navy), in 1956, four are poems by Park Mok-wol in similar magazines from 1953 to 1960, and two are short novels by Kim Dong-li in similar military magazines in 1952 and 1956.
For Mr. Shin, it was a long and patient quest. Since 1991, he traveled around libraries and data sheds at military bases across the country to find military magazines from the 1950s. Mr. Shin compared all the books by the four writers with the magazines he discovered in order to determine which works were unknown. He also spoke with other scholars. One of them, Yun Je-ung, a Korean Literature professor at Dongguk University and a former student of Suh Jhung-joo, said that long ago he had seen a draft of one of the newly-found poems in Suh’s notebook.
“Although the work is rather roughly done since it was written for military magazines, it is still a meaningful achievement to discover the hidden works by historic Korean figures left unknown for 50 years,” said Mr. Yun.
“When you closely look at the works, most of the poems are about nature and nostalgia, while the novels were about the Korean War and the meaning of family. Kim Dong-li’s ‘Buja (The Father and the Son)’ is about an 18-year-old boy, who takes refuge with his ill father,” said Mr. Yun.
Mr. Shin said, “Literature in the 50s has been neglected or generally looked down upon, as it was considered pro-Japanese propaganda during the Japanese colonial rule or anti-communism propaganda after the Korean War.”
Even if that was true, Mr. Shin said, “The works provide valuable clues to understand our history.”


by Son Min-ho

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