An Anguished Outcry - Ki Hyeong Do's Advice from A Bus Stop (정거장에서의 충고)

Mountain Verdure

Some Ki Hyeong Do (기형도) poems are about the agony he felt grappling with the world and his direction in life. Advice From A Bus Stop (정거장에서의 충고) is one such work. It is about the struggles going on in his mind over his chosen path in life, the constantly nagging suspicion that he is not good, and that the whole literature and poetry that has been his passion might be futile and meaningless, in a language that is direct and honest. It comes off like an anguish that consumes his whole being, a struggle verging on a pathology, and mysterious as well since we do not know the cause of it.

정거장에서의 충고

미안하지만 나는 이제 희망을 노래하련다
마른 나무에서 연거푸 물방울이 떨어지고
나는 천천히 노트를 덮는다
저녁의 정거장에 검은 구름은 멎는다

그러나 추억은 황량하다
군데군데 쓰러져 있던 개들은
황혼이면 처량한 눈을 껌벅일 것이다
물방울은 손등 위를 굴러다닌다
나는 기우뚱 망각을 본다 어쩌다가 집을 떠나왔던가
그곳으로 흘러가는 길은 이미 지상에 없으니
추억이 덜 깬 개들은 내 딱딱한 손을 깨물 것이다

구름은 나부낀다
얼마나 느린 속도로 사람들이 죽어갔는지
얼마나 많은 나뭇잎들이 그 좁고 어두운 입구로 들이닥쳤는지
내 노트는 알지 못한다
그동안 의심 많은 길들은 끝없이 갈라졌으니
혀는 흉기처럼 단단하다

물방울이여, 나그네의 말은 귀담아들어선 안 된다
주저앉으면 그뿐, 어떤 구름이 비가 되는지 알게 되리
그렇다면 나는 저녁의 정거장을 마음 속에 옮겨놓는다
내 희망을 감시해 온 불안의 짐짝들에게 나는 쓴다
이 누추한 육체 속에 얼마든지 머물다 가시라고
모든 길들이 흘러온다, 나는 이미 늙은 것이다

Advice From A Bus Stop

I am sorry but I will now sing about hope
As drops of water keep falling off a dry branch
I slowly close my notebook
Dark clouds stop over the bus stop at dusk

But the memory is bleak
The dogs that lay about here and there will
Start to blink their pathetic eyes come twilight time
Beads of water roll about on the back of my hand
With a big lurch I see oblivion, how did I end up leaving home
As the road leading back home is no longer there on this earth
The dogs still half drunk of old memories will bite my hardened hand

Clouds are floating about
At how slow a pace people have perished
How many leaves have crammed into that dark and narrow entranceway
My notebook does not know
All this time the distrustful roads have been endlessly forking off
So the tongue is hard like a weapon

Water droplets, you should not lend ear to the words of a wanderer
He'll squat down and that'll be it, you'll know what clouds become rain
If that is so, I will move the bus stop at dusk over into my mind
I write to those boxes of insecurity keeping a watch on my hope
Go ahead and be my guest all you want in this shabby body of mine
All the roads come flowing my way, which means I am already old

* The paragraph arrangement is mine. The original work is in single contiguous block of text.

Spring In Korea

Advice From A Bus Stop (정거장에서의 충고) is an anguished existential outcry. The poet looks back at his life and feels a debilitating doubt about what he thought was his calling, his poems and other writings. It really tugs at the reader’s heart as he puts the doubts and regrets in such blunt and honest terms. The reader may also be dumbfounded since it is not at all clear what exactly is at the heart of all this anguish. After all, Ki was publishing poems through some major literary publications, already gaining a small recognition, which may not have been much but a promising start anyway. His reporter job with the Joongang Daily News, one of the four largest newspapers in Korea, was a respectable professions to say the least. So, looking at it with an object eye, it seems he had little reason to be anguished about himself.

The poem opens with an irony and sarcasm, that he is sorry to sing about hope, as if hope is a preposterous concept for him. He then mentions the water drops, a metaphor for art and literature which is what he has set his mind on for the rest of his life. While the water is dripping, black clouds gather and things get bleak in the second paragraph. The dogs that lay about here and there, symbolizing his own self before he got onto the path of literary work, his mundane self so to speak, is unhappy about his situation. He is overwhelmed with a regret: how did I end up leaving home, which sounds like a regret about having taken on literature as a life’s calling. The dogs, his mundane self, still half drunk of old memories, are about to revolt and bite his hard hand out of their despair.

Spring In Korea

In the third paragraph, he poses a desperate question. He calls his career as a poet a slow road to death, asking At how slow a pace have people perished, and how many leaves have crammed into that dark and narrow entranceway, which may be interpreted as how many misguided souls have crammed into this meaningless entranceway called literature. He disdains the whole history of literature, that it has endlessly forked off, ending up creating a tongue that is hard like a weapon now. He is calling literature, his passion and profession, a process of slow death that is meaninglessly perpetuating itself to create a weapon-like tongue.

In the final paragraph he tells the water droplets not to listen to a wanderer like himself, as he is not one to bring rain for them, meaning he is the chaff, not wheat. He is declaring himself a failure. Then he makes a sardonic invitation to the boxes of insecurity keeping a watch on his hope, telling them to be his guest and stay in his shabby body all they want. Who, or what are they? I can’t think of anything other than, maybe, fate. He closes saying all the roads come flowing his way, which means he is already old, which to me reads like he is confused and weary of the myriads of meaningless vagaries facing him and he doesn’t have the will to go on.

So he is taking stock of his life and sees a failure and hopelessness. But again, the question begs for an answer: why? What is really behind all this anguish?

We cannot know for sure. But I would venture a guess that it might be a case of a nervous breakdown. We might call it a severe insecurity, a neurosis arising from unfounded fears, or even an extreme case of the grass looking green on the other side of the fence. People might experience a feeling of worthlessness at certain points in their lives to varying degrees. Especially for those not endowed with strong will power or thick skin and simple mind, whatever one is doing may at times look meaningless deep down. One may feel she is stuck with it all her life, swept in its perpetual motion, without any possibility of making a difference to to the world or oneself.
This is probably a much broader philosophical and existential question than first come to your mind, as existence itself is in a sense an endless process of possibilities getting dashed. Before birth, when one doesn’t exist yet, the potential is infinite, at least theoretically. Once you are born, you take on an identity which includes sex, geographic location, family pedigree, and mental as well as physical characteristics, which means the possibilities of being the other sex, in any other location with a different lineage and characteristics are all closed off to you once and for all. As you go to school and choose a career path, it further closes off a whole slew of might-have-beens. We do not think of it in this light of a narrowing process most of the time. In fact we might even feel we get more distinguished and substantial over time since we grow and take greater responsibilities in life, but this continual reduction of possibilities is an unavoidable fate for every being. It might be that Ki Hyeong Do was pathologically sensitive to this plain unchangeable reality. He seems to have been too unhappy about his lot in this world, even though it might have looked to us as far from bad by any worldly standards. It seems to me that he had too inflexible and lofty expectations for himself and the world, so much so that he couldn’t deal with the disappointing realities surrounding himself. Perhaps he needed counseling and moral as well as medical help, but alas, no one including himself thought that way at the time and he ended his short life in agony, which he clearly didn’t have to.


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