한국문학번역원 로고

kln logo

twitter facebook instargram

Lines

Reviews

  1. Lines
  2. Reviews

[VIETNAMESE] The Brilliance Before the Sunset

by Mai Văn Phấn March 8, 2023

세시에서 다섯시 사이

  • Do Jong-Hwan

Do Jong-Hwan

Do Jong-Hwan

Poet Do Jong-hwan, like many Koreans of his generation, passed through a tumultuous, dark historical night before reaching the dawn of better days. The late afternoon sun is now setting, like a person having grown more mature and profound, calmly looking back on the meaning of past journeys and accumulating new energy. Do’s Between Three and Five O’Clock, translated into Vietnamese by Lê Đăng Hoan, looks back on the past and merges it with the present and the future, stirring new energy for readers to move towards their dreams.  

    This book shows us the individual as well as collective challenges that Koreans have endured in recent decades: earthquakes, harsh winters, cultural, economic, and political upheavals, etc. Do was imprisoned because of his fight for democracy. Later, he was appointed as Minister of Culture, Sports, and Tourism and is today a member of the National Assembly. His poetry reflects the life of a responsible citizen, with a heart dedicated to his country. Throughout his work, we see the brave and resilient Korean people who have overcome difficulties to create a freer and fairer society. 

    Do is a poet who defends the marginalized, the poor, the “comfort women,” the underdogs of society, etc. He is also an observer of modern Korea and its growth, pondering the meaning of contemporary events in the world such as the nuclear disasters of Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima.

    Love is the fire that ignites Do’s poetry, helping him to survive lonely days in the wilderness of nameless mountains. The poet wishes for all the love in the world to bloom strongly like flowers in spite of pain.

    In the poem “The Stunned Farewell,” for example, we do not see a pessimistic and melancholic author; on the contrary, he believes that good things will come, like the fallen ginkgo leaves that form musical notes and resound with the memory of his deceased wife. He also believes that if this music ends, his difficult fate will turn into a beautiful landscape. In the poem “Teeth Extraction,” the poet tells himself that, even if the leaves are ravaged by worms, the purple flowers will bloom beautifully in time.

    The poet confesses to having a wounded soul, but he knows how to rely on nature’s permanence. He compares people living together to thousands of trees in a forest—relying on each other, protecting each other through storms and floods, and making this Earth forever stable. Each person in his poetry is like a leaf in the vast forest that shines with its own chlorophyll.

    Do also has a sincere love for Vietnam. I was very moved when I read the poem “Song Ba”—the river that flows through the city of Tuy Hoa in Vietnam. It is a sympathetic look at this war-torn land: “Now the river water becomes friends / listens to the same voice.” The Ba River in his poem connects people and erases division and hatred. In “Buddha Statues Are Everywhere,” he writes: “When you fall in love, all are Buddhas.” Love is the light that shines throughout this collection, reflecting the poet’s kindness and selflessness.

    Do’s poetry is mapped from the beauty of Korea: the natural beauty of its seasons, customs and traditions, and its culture as a whole. This captivating verse from “Tenderness” has many similarities with the Vietnamese soul: “The river embraces the sunset / when it falls slowly, it makes our body tremble slightly.” 

    Do’s poems flow strongly like a waterfall. He creates spaces between verses, forming a flow of movement with great speed, drawing readers along with his sudden emotions and imagination. As a result, Do’s poetry has won the hearts of many Vietnamese readers. After Between Three and Five O’Clock was published by the Vietnam Writer’s Association, many readers felt like they were holding the warm hand of a close friend from Northeast Asia. 

Do Jong-hwan likens himself to “A late blooming flower”: though the leaves fall early and one feels lonely and desolate, “the days of being together are the bright days.” This is really an ecstatic verse, showing us a poet’s calm attitude, like a flower confidently spreading its fragrance. The beautiful light of that flower has changed this life, has changed the whole world.



Mai Văn Phấn 

Award-winning poet, literary critic 

Firmament Without Roof Cover (2012)


Did you enjoy this article? Please rate your experience

SEND

Sign up for LTI Korea's newsletter to stay up to date on Korean Literature Now's issues, events, and contests.Sign up