Poem 17 Katrien is “Falling into Beauty” in South Korea and Beyond

So here’s the next poem from the new audio book  – Poem 17 Falling into Beauty.   It’s about how we plan the future… or rather, don’t.  You can listen here. So where’s  the glimmer of safety in the churn? 

It turns out, that the person who will be commenting on Falling into Beauty, is Katrien, my Belgian friend who has suddenly had to move to South Korea with her family, because of her husband’s job.

When we are catching up on Face Time, she tells me that some of the changes have surprised her – 

“I can’t recognise anything in the supermarket!  It isn’t just the language, (invented by one of their ancient kings) that has been a challenge, but even the packaging is totally unfamiliar.  I go round shaking things – is this rice?  Is this milk? What IS it?   I had to go to six different shops to find the ingredients for one dish I could make for the boys.”

I hadn’t thought about an entire supermarket of unrecognisable things! But how might this relate to having to fall into beauty?

Katrien: Well, what this poem was for me was a story of falling in love.

Oh really?

Yes, it’s a spiritual journey …about how one has an inner knowledge, but then you have to follow it.  Your sensitivity will lead you,  but you can’t grasp it.  If you take it in your fingers it escapes.

And here in Korea I am having to fall in love with a new beauty too, but it’s hard.  I find my place more easily in nature, hiking.  The scenery in Seoul is just incredible. 

But the culture is SO different and the Koreans are of course fiercely passionate about their culture, because they had so much of it robbed from them in the war with the Japanese. 

Ah yes, you told me that in the 70s they used to be practically  the poorest country in the world, but now they are one of the most economically successful.

That’s right,  and they worked for that night and day and they still do. Here, 9 year olds will be doing maths till 10pm every night. They are very aware that this is a fight for survival. They want their culture to survive too.  They have a very rich intellectual history, but they aren’t looking for interaction with other cultures and ideas.  At least that’s the impression I get. We are used to the idea of interaction with other cultures being fertile, but that’s not the objective here. 

There is a city called Paju book city, in which 10,000 people work in the publishing industry. It’s been created entirely to preserve their culture.  It’s motto is ‘A city to recover lost humanity” .

It sounds inspiring … but also looks a bit overwhelming.  It’s on such a huge scale.

Yes that’s the thing – most Asian cities we hear about  are international, like Hong Kong, but here it is absolutely Korean. Although  the culture is based on Confusianism and there’s a shrine here where they have spiritual tablets for the ancestors to preserve their spirits in, I sense that it is actually work that is the religion.

My son was at a debate in school about the existence of God.  He came home and said ‘Mum, I lost the debate’.  Out of 20 children he was the only one who believed in God. 

But this isn’t through lack of thinking about things (because they read day and night), it’s more a passionate affirmation of a kind of materialism, whose whole dynamic springs from needing the knowledge and power to compete.

It sounds a bit tiring.  So why did the poem seem relevant to surviving this situation?

Well, the kind of beauty I find there  in the poem – it’s all Holy Spirit. You’re falling into God.

Ah right, so not just into dolphins! I wondered about that!  And then there’s another line in the poem I wanted to ask you about.  I wrote  “a world made safe by God”.  At first I wasn’t sure whether to leave it in, but then I decided to go with my initial inspiration, because I try to trust my poetic imagination and see what it yeilds. 

Good! You, were right to leave it in,  because for me, especially in my present situation,  this means the world is saved by God, loved by God and when you are in God, you are ultimately free,  whatever your circumstances.

Falling into beauty is finding God’s part for you, and not just the part your culture tells you that you have to play.  Materialism is not a fulfilling life. Without the dimension of depth, your humanity has nowhere to reside.

I had a look at a website on Korean poetry in translation.  I liked this poet – Yun Dong-ju.  He’s also famous for his resistance to Japanese cultural colonialism, it seems.  Poetry is so often a tool of resistance.  

And I am reminded that, somewhat encouragingly, wherever you let poets loose, you are going to find quite a few of them reaching for the stars both within and without.

Prologue by Yun Dong-ju

Until the day I die
I long to have no speck of shame 
when I gaze up toward heaven, 
so I have tormented myself, 
even when the wind stirs the leaves. 
With a heart that sings the stars, 

I will love all dying things. 
And I will walk the way that has been given to me.
Tonight, again, the wind brushes the stars.

서시(序詩)/ 윤동주
죽는 날까지 하늘을 우러러
부끄럼이 없기를,
잎새에 이는 바람에도
나는 괴로워했다.
별을 노래하는 마음으로
모든 죽어 가는 것을 사랑해야지.
그리고 나한테 주어진 길을
오늘 밤에도 별이 바람에 스치운다.

하늘과 바람과 별과 (정음사, 1948)

Yun Dong-ju (1917 – 1945) was born in Longjing, Jiandao, in present-day northeastern China. He was known for lyric poetry as well as resistance poetry against Japanese colonialism.

Maybe some of the friends you meet there in Seoul, will be the poets you meet in books, and I suspect you’ll also find that some elf friends have indeed been sent down the elven way to meet you, now that you’ve dared to begin your journey.  

And who knows what you will create or collate, as you integrate all this seemingly alien beauty? 

If you’ve enjoyed these this,  you might enjoy these too –

1) The Audio book, out now on Audible for only £5.59 or free if you join Audible.  The only reason it’s so cheap is that they price according to length, which isn’t too sensible for poetry. However it is the length of 3 albums – at 2 hours and 35 mins.  But it does mean that the book and audio together are very affordable, which was the point of making the audio, so that you could listen and then read if you wanted to remember or study one poem in particular.  You can also listen as you read;

2)  My Poetry and Prosecco night at the St Michael’s Festival on 4th October 2018 at 7.30pm for only £12.50 including the Prosecco!  Invite friends and let’s have a poetry party with plenty of discussions afterwards.  You can book here – Books will also be available to buy on the night. Places limited.
The Artistic Director of the Festival writes on the Eventbrite page –

“An evening of seemlessly blended sparkle, profundity and joy, with performance poet and inspirational story-teller Sarah de Nordwall, back at the 2018 Festival by popular demand.
Sarah held us spellbound last year with her wisdom and wit, poetry and sheer delight at the universe, and StMaf18 is thrilled she has agreed to come back to charge our glasses for a second time…  ” Justin Harmer, Festival Director