Poets stake their claim to Ieodo
Poet Ko Un was a Buddhist monk, but in 1962, he chose to end his monastic life of over 10 years and return to the secular world at age 30. The following year, he went to Jeju Island and stayed there for three years. On the boat to the island, he planned to throw himself in the ocean if he got drunk, but he gave up the suicide plan because he couldn’t get drunk no matter how much he drank. He remained suicidal and went out to sea on a small boat. “No one ever went to Ieodo. They say someone went, though, went and never came back. Oh it’s there, for sure, it’s there. Oh no, only waves. Nothing but overpowering waves.” His most celebrated poem “Ieodo” wouldn’t have been written without this torment and despair.
Novelist Lee Cheong-jun praised Ko Un in his novella “Ieodo.” Yang Ju-ho, the editor in chief of a local newspaper in the story, praises the work. “This is a poem titled ‘Ieodo.’ It is a wonderful poem. I am completely enchanted by the author. This poet must be someone who had been to the island and came back. This man surely knows about Ieodo. Someone who’s never been there couldn’t have written such a moving poem.”
According to Cho Sung-yoon, a sociology professor at Jeju National University, the first novel about Ieodo was Kim Jeong-han’s “Weolgwanghan,” published in 1940. In 1944, Lee Si-hyung, a teacher at Jeju Agricultural School, published “Iyodo” in Japanese, and Choung Han-sook wrote “Iyeudo” in 1960. Poems include Lee Yong-sang’s “Young Woman of Ieodo.” However, Lee Cheong-jun’s “Ieodo” made the most crucial contribution to the mystic image of the island. China claims that Ieodo is “Suyan Rock,” based on some ambiguous phrase in “Shan Hai Jing.” The grounds for China’s territorial claim cannot be compared to Korea’s claim in terms of quantity. Heo Nam-choon, a Jeju National University professor, said that Ieodo has established its existence solidly in Koreans’ consciousness through the research by modern institutes, such as the Society of Ieodo Research, and constantly produced art and literary works in addition to the old legends, myths and folk songs.
The territorial boundary cannot be defended just by international laws. Which side would people from a third country think more valid, a single, ambiguous phrase in “Shan Hai Jing” or aggregation of Korean culture over an extended period of time? I am thankful that the writers and poets have written so much about Ieodo.
*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Noh Jae-hyun