By Choi Jin-yearn; Translated into English from Korean by Won Eung-soon; Edited by Choi Yearn-hong; Good Works; 130 pp., 12,000 won
Choi Jin-Yearn is a Christian Korean poet with a message of love: love of the earth, love of people close to us, and love of people far from us. Autumn Prayer by Choi Jin-Yearn (2012), published in Seoul, Korea, was translated by Won Eung-Soon and edited by Choi Yearn-Hong. The book is divided into four sections. The section entitled, “the Rainbow and the Boy,” contains purely lyrical poetry with a bent toward the idea of man and nature. Autumn Prayer is an appropriate title for the book and second section as it connects nature (autumn) with Christian beliefs (prayer). The third section, A Scenery in Lenses, has a greater focus on technology and the urban, modern world, as is designated with the word “lenses.” The last section is composed of critical view, or reviews. The most notable review is the one by Mun Dok-su.
Man and Nature
Some of Choi Jin-Yearn’s poetry is beautiful and more emotional in its simplicity. A good example of this is “Walking Together” where he states, “A father is walking/Hand in hand with his son./The son is walking/Hand in hand with his father.” “Father and Son” could easily have also been “Father and Daughter” or “Mother and Daughter” or any other similar variation since many can relate. He states, “When you abandoned me,/I abandoned you” but “When you love me,/I love you.” Even if there is more nature poetry in this book, the emphasis is still on people. The author often uses personification in his nature poetry, giving trees ears and coats in “Looking at A Magnolia” and giving flowers emotions in “The Laughing Flowers.” The nature poetry can be seen as metaphors for people and relationships.
In “The Baker of the Love Bread” one is reminded of Communion Sundays where there is a breaking of bread or The Lord’s Prayer in which we say, “give us this day our daily bread.” In “The Old Friend” I find that this would be a man I would like to meet when he mentions the “joy of meeting God” in an old classmate. He bemoans the fact that we do not have time to love in “A Love Song,” which expresses the importance of time as a gift that one gives to others. His poetry causes one to participate in introspection. He asks, “Do I wear and offer such a fragrance to my neighbors?” (with the fragrance being a metaphor for love and beauty) and repeatedly asks “Can I become such a flower?” This reflects a Christian’s desire to radiate love and for others to see the Christ in them. The author’s spiritual philosophy and wisdom comes out in “You, A Mirror of Mine” and “The Mirror.” Many religions besides just Christianity believe that the people we meet in our lives are a reflection of ourselves, whether or not those people are people we love or hate.
Christianity is very important to the author. I once heard of a man who was chosen as “the one,” the next great speaker that a special group of important people would cultivate and promote in the public limelight, but only under the condition that the speaker could not make a reference to God. Despite the temptation, it was no surprise that the speaker turned down the offer. This is the kind of dedication I see in this author, who happens to also be a reverend.
The Urban Forest
The transition from the second section to the third section seems a bit abrupt as we go from loving kindness to the harsh reality of urban life. The second poem in “A Scenery in Lenses” is “Urban Forest.” The mention of “A missing virgin’s screaming” is a strong juxtaposition to “the Happy Land,” the last line in the poem right before the section change. After being comfortable in a tone of Christian love, the reader must face the brutality of evil in Lebanon, Baghdad, Kabul, Islamabad, and Beirut in “A Street of Storm” and “Fire Engine, Nowhere.”
For a non-native speaker of the Korean language, one can learn much about the Korean culture through his side notes. In the side notes one can learn about Koguryo, an ancient kingdom that controlled Northern Korea or the Buddhist Bell of Bongdock-sa Temple, a bell much larger than the Liberty Bell in Pennsylvania. The Liberty Bell is just over a ton, and the Buddhist Bell is 19 tons! “The Han River at Sunset” is littered with a bow to the Korean culture with mention of the Han River, Seoul Woods, Younjong isle, the Eungbong station, and Yongjin. Other Korean references are below:
- Persimmon flowers in “The South Wind,”
- References to naval LST vessels in “Catching A Sweetfish,”
- “[S]ootnae,” which means a streamlet of charcoals, from “The Flower Petals Drifting Away,”
- The rabbit and cinnamon tree, based on a Korean myth, in “The Naked Moon,”
- Cicadas in “The Cicada,” and
- The Seoul Metro Train in “Inside the Seoul Metro Train.
Comments and Critiques
In the last section, Mun Dok-su references the preface of One Night at Youngpo-dong, which discusses the author’s “Winter in the Old House,” where the author again references Korea with “a gardenia, the northern wind, a mountain, and the charcoal stove.” As I mentioned before, the poet’s strength lies in the simplicity of his poems. As Mun Dok-su’s chosen excerpt mentions, the author can make a poem strong “without using special or unique poetic vocabularies.” Right now I find “Pure White Picture” to be most relevant to my own life, with the winter arriving, as I can tell from the mall Christmas trees in early November. If I were to take away anything from this book of poetry it would be that he wanted to “write a poem which awakens from sleep […] a poem as an image/on the fallen leaves with white frost” (from “An Autumn Letter”).