The Life and Times of Poet Lee Sang-hwa

published be Devon Furbush
Lee Sang-hwa was a man of many hats. Not only did he unapologetically include anti-Japanese lyrics in his poems during the colonization period, but he demonstrated great principles and was living proof of Korea’s defiant literary history. Once a young man who had dreams of studying in France, he ultimately ended up in Japan. However, the 1923 Great Kanto earthquake that claimed the lives of over six-thousand people forced young Sang-hwa to return to Korea under Japanese rule.
Upon his return, he was met with the dreaded reality of what the country had become. Not only were his people being treated like caged animals, but his homeland had completely deteriorated. One could only imagine how this might affect a young 22-year-old person. Overwhelmed with rage and despair, Sang-hwa’s life change forever, and seeing how his country had decayed during his time away made the thought of living in France impractical and foolish.
It was at this time that he began to devote his time to poetry. Grieving over the loss of his nation, his first official poem was titled “Lament for Decadence.” Soon he transformed into a great poet who expressed grief, hate, romance, and tendency through his words. Throughout his short life, he produced a total of sixty-four poems, two novels, twenty-two proses, and five translated novels. His piece “Does Spring Come to a Deprived Land” was dubbed a masterpiece that launched him to elite status.

An unfortunate return
Despite his success as a poet, Sang-hwa suffered multiple misfortunes soon after his return to Korea. In 1925, his presence in the Korea Arista Proleta Federatio was met with disappointment after it was revealed his classical philosophy contradicted the group’s proletarian class literature. Three years later, he was tortured during an interrogation for his affiliation with two men who threatened a wealthy man to raise funds for publication documents. By 1939 he quit his position as a teacher to focus on producing the “History of Korean Literature” but soon fell ill to stomach cancer. Before passing away at the age of 43 he was able to produce one last poem titled “A Doleful Melody”. The home where he lived and worked at opened as a museum in 2008 next to Seo Sang-don's.

Address: 6-1, Seoseong-ro, Seongnae 2-dong, Jung-gu

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