Koreana SUMMER 1993 Vol.7 No.2
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The Song of Nature: Park Mok-wol
Chung Kwa-ri
Literary critic
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Park Mok-wol (1917-1978) first came to light as a poet through the publication of five works in Moonjang magazine from September 1939 to September 1940. He made a glorious start accompanied by such praise as "If the North has So-wol, then the South has Mok-wol," but Park's poetic career soon came up against grave political obstacles.
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Park came to fame just before the outbreak of WWII and the oppression of the occupying Japanese had reached its peak. Under pressure from the Japanese to create works subscribing to their policy of dominating Korean culture, Korean writers and poets were forced to either comply with their demands and degrade themselves to the status of pro-Japanese mouthpiece, or to keep silent.
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Park Mok-wol, however, rejected both options. Along with Cho Chi-hoon and Park Du-jin who had both debuted at the same time through Moonjang Park Mok-wol devoted himself to writing poems with no regard to publication.
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After Japan was defeated in WWII and Korea was liberated, the three poets released a joint volume of poetry, Cb'ongnokjip, in 1946. And because of this book Park Mok-wol will remain unforgotten in the history of Korean literature.
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What characterizes Park's poems more than anything else is his depiction of nature. He is a poet who loves to sing its song. The scenes he describes are meditative and rich in the local color of the land: the isolated mountain peak from whence flies the dust of pine flowers; the heat waves of a spring day and the lazy clouds drifting above them; the song of a hidden oriole; an oak tree covered in morning dew; the halo of the moon; and the rustling withered trees.
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In such scenes, a blind girl and the poet are both drawn as if they were still-lifes. However, there is nearly always a narrow twisting strip of road, and it is this that secretly reveals the mind of the poet. Therefore, contrary to what they seem, Park's poems do not portray nature as it is. The strain of conflict between man and nature is suggested in the road which splits the scene.
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If you stand still and study the picture, it reveals a world locked in silence, a world of stillness which quietly spills forth tears and the gestures of life. And at the core of this world lies the poet's loneliness and search for comfort, the anguish of an intellectual trying to overcome a world which is not at peace.
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The quiet anguish of the poet is expressed through the greatest amount of compression and control. Park has tried to create, to borrow the poet's words, "the reverberation of meaning" through "the silences left by concise expression, the right amount of omission in sound and meaning."
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Such compression and omission endow the poems with classical grace and are in fact the force which crystalizes the tension between man and nature, the scene and the road. And in this process the poet tries to hide his feelings as much as possible.
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When concealment is pursued to the extreme, the picture is erased leaving behind only the act of hiding. Nature as portrayed by Park, therefore, becomes a metaphor of concealment itself. But paradoxically, as this takes place, the narrow road etched into the scene vividly throws into relief the loneliness and desolation of those quiet wanderers in nature.
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That which is displayed in the foreground and background and that which is-hidden both achieve the same degree of twisting and turning, and thus give Park's poetry a unique texture.
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In addition to the beauty of minimalism, another distinguishing feature of Park's poetry is his exclusive use of the Kyongsang Province dialect. Under the overwhelting dominance of the Cholla Province dialect in Korean poetry as represented by Kim Yong-ran and Soh Jong-ju, Park's bold introduction of the Kyongsang dialect opened up the possibilities of a new rhythm. Along with Paik Sok's experimentation with the Pyongan Province dialect, Park's efforts represent important resources in the pursuit of musical elements in Korean poetry.
 
 
 
     
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