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[Op-Ed] Tagore Literature Awards

Posted January. 27, 2010 16:46,   


“In the ancient heyday of Asia, Joseon was one of the lights that shined… When the lamp is lit once again, you will become a bright light of the East.” The poem “A Lamp of the East-Korea,” which was translated into Korean by poet Ju Yo-han, was published in the April 2, 1929 issue of The Dong-A Ilbo. The poem was written by the great Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), the first Asian to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. The work encouraged Koreans, who were then under the yoke of Japanese colonial rule. The Korean public found a message of hope in his poem in the line, “Joseon (former name for Korea) must revive itself and build a nation of great culture in East Asia.”

At the time, Japan predicted it would become the first Asian country to produce a Nobel laureate in literature. After Tagore won the prize, however, the Japanese government invited him to Tokyo to give a lecture. Dong-A asked him to visit Korea after Japan. Expressing deep regret over his inability to visit Korea, Tagore wrote his poem to Lee Tae-ro, who was then Dong-A’s Tokyo bureau chief. The daily’s readers felt closer to India, which was itself under British colonial rule, in reading Tagore’s poem over and over again. Ju, who translated the poem into Korean, was Dong-A’s Pyongyang bureau chief.

The first ceremony for the Tagore Literature Awards was held at the Oberoi Hotel in New Delhi Monday. President Lee Myung-bak and First Lady Kim Yoon-ok were among the guests. The prize was created by Samsung Electronics and the Sahitya Akademi of India late last year in honor of Tagore. Sahitya, also known as India’s National Academy of Letters, selects the winners by assessing literary works written in eight languages that are used in India. At the time Tagore donated his famous poem, Korea was an impoverished nation that had lost its sovereignty to Japan. Now one of the world’s largest economies, Korea has helped to create an award in honor of Tagore. The late poet would be truly pleased about this.

Quoting the poem in the last minutes of her summit with President Lee in New Delhi yesterday, Indian President Pratibha Patil said, “I pay deep respects to the economic achievements Korea has made today and its people’s capacity. The light of Korea will shine more in the East Asian era of the 21st century.” Koreans today should remember with warm affection what Tagore conveyed to the Land of the Morning Calm some 80 years ago, on the day when Korea and India upgraded their diplomatic ties to the level of a strategic partnership.

Editorial Writer Park Seong-won (swpark@donga.com)