The great paradox of springtime

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The great paradox of springtime

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Every April, as spring comes, TS Eliot’s poem “The Waste Land” is cited. The famous opening line goes, “April is the cruelest month, breeding/ Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing/ Memory and desire, stirring/ Dull roots with spring rain. Winter kept us warm, covering/ Earth in forgetful snow, feeding/ A little life with dried tubers.”

The poem drew renewed attention as the newly appointed head of the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office quoted it as he took the office. It was interpreted as meaning that he will launch a full-scale investigation. It makes sense since he said “winter kept us warm” when spring is already here. So people speculate that it may be his way of warning criminals that harsher punishments are to come.

But if you look closer, the poem can be interpreted differently. “The Waste Land” is a poem about the impudence of spring. In fact, spring does not deserve credit for the new buds and sprouts. They spring up only because winter has endured laboring pain in severe cold to keep the seeds and roots. But people forget about the merits of winter and praise spring only. What we must not forget is the paradox of life hidden behind the spectacular festivity - the secret of spring’s conception.

The more extensive investigations become, the greater the pain will be. As the National Tax Service and financial authorities began probes, the rental of safe-deposit boxes, bank withdrawals and the sale of gold increase drastically and a shortage of 50,000 won bills begins. There is circumstantial evidence that money is kept in safe-deposit boxes and closets, not banks. The banks will hand over their transaction information to the National Tax Service, so even law-abiding citizens feel insecure. If you earn more than 20 million won ($17,794) in interest and dividends, you will have to pay more tax. So it is one less reason to keep money in the bank. Although such moves are not desirable, it is the reality.

There’s another paradox. What will happen if a law is passed to prohibit conglomerates from reducing order prices even if they run deficits? The conglomerates will not make long-term contracts with small- and medium-sized companies. They will seek overseas providers who can supply at cheaper prices. The goodwill to help small and medium businesses will backfire and destroy them. So, a strong focus on law and punishment will lead to catastrophic results most of the time.

TS Eliot’s “The Waste Land” is similar to the lament of Wang Zhaojun, a woman who met a tragic fate in the Western Han Dynasty in China more than 2,000 years ago. “As the barbarian land does not have flowering grasses even when spring comes, it doesn’t seem like spring.” As long as the paradox of laboring pain hidden under festivity is not remembered, spring on this land cannot be spring. Especially this year, April does not seem like spring.

*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Young-ook
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