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[Opinion] Pi Chun-deuk and His Innocent Life

Posted May. 28, 2007 03:25,   


Essay writer Pi Chun-deuk loved May, the month he was born in. “May has the face of a twenty-year-old, freshly sparkling with water drops from cold washing. No point in counting my own age. I’m living in May,” he wrote in his essay “May.”

He has retained his boyish charm throughout his life. “I love treading on fresh greens. I love the feeling on my fingers gliding along newly sprouted leaves. My heart still leaps at the sounds of waves on a beach. I want to lead a life with no one to hate and a few devoted loved ones,” he wrote in his essay “What I love in my life.” Pi, who had led a life just like his writing, left the world on one of those fine days in May, this year.

In the mid 1970s, he announced that he would write no more. “One day I realized that my writing was not like what it once was. So I decided to stop.” He quit his professorship at Seoul National University with one year left until retirement age. Naïve, modest, and unaffected by all worldly obsessions were terms by which others described him, but his life experiences were not so smooth. He lost his father at the age of seven, and then his mother at ten. His younger days were dotted with the ups and downs of modern Korean history—colonization by Japan and the Korean War, most notably.

The 1930s, when he made his debut as a writer, was a time of conflict in the Korean literary community between the forces that argued for the role of literature in colonized Korea and others who advocated pure literature. He chose the path of lyricism and pureness. His pureness in his writings, however, is tinged with bitterness, probably because of the circumstances of his homeland. The conflict between realism and pureness in the literary world is nothing new. They both enjoy glory cyclically. At this time of overt ideology and materialism, his writings are even more relevant and touching.

Born in 1910, he was often heard to say, “It is almost embarrassing to live this long.” He may have heard others asking, “Is Pi still alive?” But I think differently. How grateful would we be if we could have celebrated the hundredth birthday of a nationally beloved writer? I am so sorry that he passed away with three years to go before his hundredth birthday.

Hong Chan-sik, Editorial Writer, chansik@donga.com