A river runs through it

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A river runs through it


When a river bed steepens, the water runs more quickly and forms rapids. With the more dramatic river flow and the increased turbulence of the water, a loud cacophony of sounds is produced.
Kim So-wol, a Korean poet famous for his poignant verses, was inspired by rapids. The English translation of his poem on river rapids appears in a book “Selected Poems of Kim So-wol,” translated by Kim Dong-sung.
“What is the worry/ That you are/ Brooding over, alone by the river?/ When the grass/ Budded out/ And the water rippled in the spring breeze/ Perhaps you had promised/ That you were not going away for good/ But to return./ What are you brooding over/ Sitting by the river/ Day after day?/ Did you make a promise/ That meant that you/ Wanted her never to give you up?”
In the translation, the person is sitting by a river, but “river” could just as easily have been translated from the original Korean version as “rapids.”
The relationship between the “you” and the narrator is the key to understanding the poem. At first, it sounds like the speaker is recalling the memory of a beloved one.
But if one reads more carefully, the poet appears to be meditating on how everything fades away with time. Water symbolizes things that move on, following the laws of nature. The poem is about things that disappear beyond the reach of our memories.
In the line: “That you were not going away for good,” the poet wants to say that “you” may be going away for now, but could come back again.
It sounds like the speaker gives up hope at first, but ends with the impression that “you” will embrace things as they are, rather than just giving up.
These days, chaos is erupting as some people do not want to resign from their posts, while others are forcing them to leave.
Things will become much simpler if they let things move on and go with the flow. It is suspicious when they are desperate to keep their posts.
A Chinese saying goes: “Retreat bravely in the face of a turbulent river.”
Even if they leave now, it is too late to make it a brave retreat. But if they understand the situation and leave, they will at least be applauded by the conservative government.
People expect the political circle to create a better society. But it isn’t easy.
As some refuse to step down from their posts while their boss yells at everyone to leave, without differentiating good people from bad, the conflict continues, leaving the people with a heavy feeling of despair.

*The writer is a deputy international news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Yoo Kwang-jong [kjyoo@joongang.co.kr]
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