Tribute to poet who struggled for freedom
By Cho Jae-hyon
Kim Su-young (1921-1968) wrote poems to be none other than himself — free from all kinds of suppression in the tumultuous era of the 1950s and ’60s.
Human beings — feeble and weak by nature — tend to rely on God, power or money as a means to overcome their weakness and limits. But Kim, who lived a tragic life, relied entirely on himself to transcend all of his grief and agony. For Kim, the poem was freedom, revolution and himself at the same time.
Kang Shin-joo, a well-known philosopher who has written a series of books on philosophy and humanities, wrote this long tribute to Kim as he was hugely influenced by him.
Kang says he was introduced to Kim’s works for the first time when he was at the lowest point of his young adult life. Since then the poet has been a guiding light for the author. Kim’s poems lent him the courage to refuse to compromise with the world and showed him the path out of darkness.
He wrote this book to repay the debt he thinks he owes the poet and say goodbye to him. Saying goodbye means that the author is ready to free himself from the influence of the poet. Kang is putting what he learned from the poet into practice: Be yourself and live your life!
As the title “For Kim Su-young” implies, this book is homage to the poet — a love letter in which the author confesses how much he loved and how much he respected him. The subtitle of the book is “The pride of our humanities” and the poet deserves the title.
Compared to other books written by literary critics, this book, from the preface to the epilogue, is rich with philosophical interpretations of his poems.
Rather than analyzing his poems with literary points of views, he approaches them with sharp philosophical insight, revealing the meanings hidden between the lines in more plain, down-to-earth words for readers.
The author, who has made efforts to live as instructed by the poet, consistently stresses that what Kim had pursued was absolute, uncompromising freedom, an essential element for one to live his or her own life.
Only those who live their own life in their own style can write a true, irreplaceable poem. That’s what the poet had struggled to achieve throughout his life.
On the other hand, however, his pursuit of freedom also posed a burden on the poet — he must oppose all authoritarian forces that oppress freedom but he finds himself too weak to fight for it in practice.
This frustration stemming from the gap between his ideal and the real world was manifest in many of his poems. In the poem “Walking out of a palace one day” (1965), he laments his smallness about venting anger only to the powerless.
Despite this, his poems were his struggle against all authoritarian elements that prevented people from living their own life. He abhorred being a part of “we or groups” and instead fought to become a true “I.” As he said in his poem “Moon Nation’s Fun” (1953) that a top should spin for none other than itself, he believes the messiah is not far away but within us — “I” is the one who can save “I.”
Any attempt to locate the poet somewhere in an ideological spectrum is futile as he is nothing but a humanist who fiercely struggled to live his own life and sublimate it into poems in his own style. This book is a gem not only for the poet’s fans but also for other readers who have never heard of the poet.
“For Kim Su-young” Kang Shin-joo; Imagine1000; 413 pp, 23,000 won.