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Shijo -- Chong Chol

Guest poem submitted by Lisa:
(Poem #1503) Shijo
 The rise and fall of nations are myriad;
 Taebang Fortress is covered
 with autumn grass.
 To the herdsman's pipes
 I'll leave my ignorance of the past
 and I'll drink a cup to this great age of peace.
-- Chong Chol
This poem appeared today in the Korean Herald, in their "A Poem for
Breakfast" feature.  I was struck by the first line, pointing to the
ephemeral nature of even great nations, as they rise, fall, and are
eventually become covered over with grass.  In the midst of daily bad news
from all corners of the world, much of it caused by nations attempting to
create some sort of permanence for themselves and their ideologies, a
sentiment such as this strikes me as, bizarrely, hopeful.  Nations come and
go, always.  I think I'll join Chong Chol in leaving my ignorance and
drinking a cup -- though I wonder if the age he lived in was really the
great age of peace!

The poem appeared here:
http://www.koreaherald.co.kr/SITE/data/html_dir/2004/04/15/asp

The Korean Herald had this to say about the poem:
Chong Chol, the great poet-bureaucrat of the mid-Joseon period, treats one
of the great themes of literature, the ephemeral nature of human existence.
His stance is typically Korean. He says, concentrate on how good things are
now and forget the turbulence of the past! Taebang Fortress is today's
Namwon in North Jeolla Province, Chunhyang's town.

More information about the Joseon period can be found here:
[broken link] http://www.korea.net/learnaboutkorea/history/earlyjoseon.html
[broken link] http://www.korea.net/learnaboutkorea/history/latejoseon.html

More information on the Taebang Fortress (today the Namwon Castle) can be
found here:
[broken link] http://namwon.jeonbuk.kr/eng/sub/usan/nam.htm

--Lisa

34 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

John K. Taber said...

In a similar way, Wislawa Szymborska deals with the transitoriness
of horrendous events in an ironic vein. The pith of the poem is

"Where not a stone still stands
you see the Ice Cream Man
besieged by children."

Just picture one of the horrendous battles of WWII, say at
Stalingrad. Most of the place names refer to killing fields,
which the historically naive might like to look up on Google.

================================

REALITY DEMANDS
Wislawa Szymborska

Reality demands
that we also mention this:
Life goes on.
It continues at Cannae and Borodino,
at Kosovo Polje and Guernica.

There's a gas station
on a little square in Jericho,
and wet paint
on park benches in Bila Hora.
Letters fly back and forth
between Pearl Harbor and Hastings,
a moving van passes
beneath the eye of the lion at Cheronea,
and the blooming orchards near Verdun
cannot escape
the approaching atmosphere front.

There is so much Everything
that Nothing is hidden quite nicely.
Music pours
from the yachts moored at Actium
and couples dance on their sunlit decks.

So much is always going on,
that it must be going on all over.
Where not a stone still stands
you see the Ice Cream Man
besieged by children.
Where Hiroshima had been
Hiroshima is again,
producing many products
for everyday use.

This terrifying world is not devoid of charms,
of the mornings
that make waking up worthwhile.
The grass is green
on Maciejowice's fields,
and it is studded with dew,
as is normal with grass.

Perhaps all fields are battlefields,
all grounds are battlegrounds,
those we remember
and those that are forgotten:
the birch, cedar, and fir forests, the white snow,
the yellow sands, gray gravel, the iridescent swamps,
the canyons of black defeat,
where, in times of crisis,
you can cower under a bush.

What moral flows from this? Probably none.
Only the blood flows, drying quickly,
and, as always, a few rivers, a few clouds.

On tragic mountain passes
the wind rips hats from unwitting heads
and we can't help
laughing at that.

================================

On a certain topical mailing list, a guy in Russia complained
that at the site of the siege of Moscow in WWII, there is now
an IKEA store. It is deplorable, he thought. I shot back that
I thought it is wonderful, reality demands that we mention
life goes on.

A department store may be better than a monument.

Symborska is one of my favorite poets. She is Polish. She
won the Nobel not too long ago. Her poems are gems of the
commonplace seen uncommonly.

John K. Taber

½É À±°æ said...

Yoon Shim

Just thought I'd mention - I'm not sure if 'shijo' is
really the title of this poem, but it means a form of
poetry that has been used by scholars and high-class
people in Korea since about the end of the Koryo
period. It's sort of like haiku, consisting of three
'parts'(lines) which are formed with a certain number
of words.

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