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Modern poet Lee Sang’s love letter discovered

Posted July. 24, 2014 06:25,   


Lee Sang (1910-1937), the “highly talented writer,” went to Baekcheon Hot Spring in Hwanghae Province for treatment of tuberculosis in 1933, when he met Geum Hong, a Korean Keisha. He enjoyed short-lived happiness before Geum Hong, a man-eater, defected from their home. The relationship allowed the great poet to write the autobiographic novel “Wings.” In his final years, Lee fell in love with Byeon Dong-lim, a new generation woman and a graduate of English department at Ewha Womans College (current Ewha Womans University). But their marriage ended in a matter of four months due to Lee’s death. Byeon Dong-lim, who changed her name to Kim Hyang-an, remarried Kim Hwan-ki, and served as a strong supporter of the famed painter.

The recipient of Lee Sang’s handwritten love letter, which was publicized in Wednesday’s issue of The Dong-A Ilbo, was Choi Jeong-hee (1912-1990), a then 23-year-old novelist and divorcee. “I truly like you. I like your small lips, neck and chin.” The three-page letter, which is believed to have been written in 1935, contains Lee’s frank expressions to win love. However, at the time Choi was dating Kim Dong-hwan, a writer with penname Pa-in who was married with children. The sentence, “Now, I am about to dislike you for no reason” in Lee’s letter, is regretful confession of love relationship that cannot be maintained.

According to Jeong Gyu-woong, a literary critic, Choi was considered a lover and nicknamed an "elder sister" by all males in the Korean literature community due to her beautiful appearance and feminine character. Choi had two daughters (Kim Ji-won and Chae-won) with Kim, and these daughters who took after their mother debuted as novelists. Lee Sang’s love letter was discovered when Chae-won was filing letters of the late Choi. Kwon Yeong-min, emeritus professor at Dankook University who examined the letter, speculates that “Jongsaeng-gi” featuring the character named “Jeong-hee” is a novel modeled after Choi.

When it comes to love letter, Poet Yoo Chi-hwan (1908-1967) with penname Cheong-ma left a collection of recordings that no one can dare to mimic. Yoo had a family, but met with Lee Yeong-do (1916-1976), a poet of traditional Korean poetry who was an 8-year younger widow, and had Platonic love affairs with her. The 20-year period, during which Yoo mailed more than 5,000 handwritten letters, gave birth to “Happiness,” one of the Korean poems that are most beloved by Koreans. Reading Lee Sang’s love letter, one will learn that confession of love using all different emoticons over the mobile phone is no match to the deep emotion conveyed in handwritten letters.