The gentle nip of spring snow

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The gentle nip of spring snow

The traditional painter Heo Baek-ryeon, better known by his pseudonym Uijae, knew a thing or two about the tea ceremony. After the liberation of Korea from Japan, he kept a tea field at the foot of Mount Mudeung in Gwangju. The tea that comes from here is called “spring snow tea,” named after a line in a poem by Luo Da Jing of the Southern Song Dynasty that read, “A bowl of spring snow is better than jaeho.”

Jaeho is the finest butter than can be acquired from pure milk, and here it refers to the noblest state of enlightenment. Is this a reflection on life, which melts away in an instant just like spring snow? Or upon the profundity and of two coexisting opposites, spring flowers with snow on their branches? Either way, it’s the perfect name for tea leaves that sprout despite the snow.

Poet Kim Chun-su also wrote that “the snow in March in Chagall’s village... makes the vein on the temple of a man waiting for spring tremble. It gently touches him, coming down from the sky with millions of wings to cover the roofs and chimneys of Chagall’s village.”

Marc Chagall was a Russian-French artist. His first love was Bella, a girl eight years younger than him. It was love at first sight, and she inspired him to paint “My Fiancee in Black Gloves,” which made him famous. He left his snow-covered hometown in Russia for France, but could not forget his native land and his first love.

This is when he painted “Me and My Village.” The canvas, which depicted many scenes split apart, reflects his loving hope and passionate yearning for the hometown he left.

This is the painting that inspired Kim Chun-su’s poem “Chagall.”

In fact, more than 600,000 people crowded into a retrospective exhibition in Seoul a few years ago, starting a “Chagall craze.”

Extremely cold weather overlaps with heavy snowfall in March on the lunar calendar, right before the start of spring. They say cold weather in the spring breaks ceramic jars, but don’t they also say that spring snow is mild, like a spanking from one’s aunt? No matter how much snowfall there is, it disappears without a trace with a single warm spring breeze.

The scent of flowers comes from afar, riding the spring breeze. They say cherry blossoms will blossom on Jeju Island following the azaleas on March 19. Then, after they bloom in Jinhae, the flowers are predicted to blossom in Seoul starting around April 7. The late Venerable Beopjeong said, “Ume flowers are most beautiful when they are in half blossom, cherry blossoms are most beautiful when they are in full blossom, peach blossoms are most beautiful when seen from afar, and pear blossoms are most beautiful when seen up close.” I hope that the conflicts and hardships accumulated throughout the winter will disappear like snow melting in spring on rivers and mountains, and that hope will bloom full and rich like cherry blossoms.

The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Park Jong-kwon
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