So, Chong-ju 1915-2000

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So, Chong-ju 1915-2000



Born May 18, 1915, in Sonun, North Cholla Province, Korea; died December 24, 2000, in Seoul, South Korea; married (wife deceased); children: two sons. Education: Attended Central Buddhist College (now Tongguk University).


Poet and educator. Worked as a journalist and high school teacher, beginning 1945; Tongguk University, Seoul, South Korea, professor, then professor emeritus of literature.


Freedom Literature Award, 1955; Korean Academy of Arts Award, 1967; nominated for Nobel Prize in literature; numerous other Korean literary awards.



Hwasa (title means "The Flower Snake"), 1938, Namman Sogo (Kyongsongbu, Korea), 1941, reprinted, Mungak Tongne (Seoul, South Korea), 2001.

Kwich'okto (title means "The Cuckoo"), 1948.

Kim Chwa-jin Changgun chon, Uryou Munhwasa (Seoul, South Korea), 1948.

Yi Sung-man Paksa chon, Samp'also (Seoul, South Korea), 1949.

Chakko siin son, Chongumsa (Seoul, South Korea), 1950.

Hyondae Choson myongsison: pu, hyondae Chosonsi yaksa, Onmunsa (Seoul, South Korea), 1950.

Chonson sich'op, Kukpangbu Chonghun'guk (South Korea), 1950.

Si ch'angjakpop, Sonmunsa (Seoul, South Korea), 1955.

So Chong-ju sison, Munumsa (Seoul, South Korea), 1956.

So Chong-ju sijip, [Seoul, Korea], 1956, reprinted, Pomusa (Seoul, South Korea), 1997.

Simunhak kaeron, [Seoul, South Korea], 1961.

Silla ch'o (title means "The Essence of Silla"), Chongumsa (Seoul, South Korea), 1961.

Kkumkwa sarang ui taehwa: "Sarang un chunun kot in'ga pannun kot in'ga," Hwimun (Seoul, South Korea), 1963.

Tongch'on (title means "Winter Sky"), Minjung Sogwan (Seoul, South Korea), 1968.

Han'guk ui hyondaesi (title means "The Modern Poems in Korea"), Ilchisa (Seoul, South Korea), 1969, reprinted, Taehan Kyokwaso Chusik Hoesa (Seoul, South Korea), 1996.

Simunhak wollon, Chongumsa (Seoul, South Korea), 1969.

So Chong-ju munhak chonjip, five volumes, Ilchisa (Seoul, South Korea), 1972.

Han'guk pulgyo sison, Tongguk Yokkyonwon (Seoul, South Korea), 1973.

Chilmajae sinhwa, Ilchisa (Seoul, South Korea), 1975.

So Chong-ju yukp'il sison, Munhak Sasangsa (Seoul, South Korea), 1975.

Kukhwa yop eso, Samjungdang (Seoul, South Korea), 1975, reprinted, Minumsa (Seoul, South Korea), 1997.

Midang susangnok, Minumsa (Seoul, South Korea), 1976.

Tt_dori _ si, Minumsa (Seoul, South Korea), 1976, reprinted, 1993.

Han'guk myongsi son, Hyonamsa (Seoul, South Korea), 1977.

Hanunim ui enuri, Minumsa (Seoul, South Korea), 1977.

Tokkaebi nan maul iyagi: yunyongi chasojon, Paengmansa (Seoul, South Korea), 1977.

70-yondae munje chakka sinch'un munye tangson schakp'umjip, Hanjin Ch'ulp'ansa (Seoul, South Korea), 1977.

Ch'onji yujong, Tongwon'gak (Seoul, South Korea), 1977.

Na ui munhak, na ui insaeng, Sejong Chulpan Kongsa (Seoul, South Korea), 1977.

Na ui munhachok chasojon, Minumsa (Seoul, South Korea), 1978.

Nae yongwon un milpit laillak, Kabin (Seoul, South Korea), 1978.

Hyondae siilon, Hyongsoi (Seoul, South Korea), 1979.

Hyondae chakkaron, Hyongsoi (Seoul, South Korea), 1979.

So Chong-ju ui myongsi, Hallim (Seoul, South Korea), 1979.

An kkunnanun norae, Chongumsa (Seoul, South Korea), 1980.

Nabi ya, Lu (Seoul, South Korea), 1980.

So uro kanun tal ch'orom: Midang segye kihaeng sijip, Munhak Sasang (Seoul, South Korea), 1980.

Tagyong: pu Yuk U-ranun saram, [Seoul, South Korea], 1980.

Ttodolmyo mohulmyo muot ul poryonunyo, Tonghwa Ch'ulp'an Kongsa (Seoul, South Korea), 1980.

Han songi ui kukhwakkot ul p'iugi wihae, Minyesa (Seoul, South Korea), 1980.

Ajikto uri ege sojunghan kot, Ch'ongjosa (Seoul, South Korea), 1981.

Hak i ulgo kan nattul ui si: siro ingun Han'guksa panmannyon, Munhaksa (Seoul, South Korea), 1982.

Si sch'angjakpop, Yejigak (Seoul, South Korea), 1982.

Midang So Chong-ju si chonjip, Munumsa (Seoul, South Korea), 1983.

(With others) Na rul k'iwo chun I mal han madi: i ttang ui myhongsa 99-in i ssun, Taehyon (Seoul, South Korea), 1983.

An ich'nun iltul, Hyondae Munhaksa (Seoul, South Korea), 1984.

Norae, Chongum Munhwasa (Seoul, South Korea), 1984.

Sjisonjip, Samsong (Seoul, South Korea), 1984.

Chondaebob-ui yongu, Hansin Munhwasa (Seoul, South Korea), 1984.

Nun i pursige p'ururun nal un, Yourmsa (Pusan-si, South Korea), 1985.

Han'gugin ui sesong si, Ch'ongha (Seoul, South Korea), 1985.

Yukchabaeki karak e t'anun chindalle, Yejonsa (Seoul, South Korea), 1985.

Sijol i ha susang hani, Tonghwa (Seoul, South Korea), 1986.

Wi wa siin ui mal: Han Yong-un eso Yi Hae-in kkaji, Ch'angusa (Seoul, South Korea), 1986.

Unforgettable Things, translated by David R. McCann, Pace International Research (Arch Cape, OR), 1986.

Siin kwa kukhwa, Kabin (Seoul, South Korea), 1987.

P'al hal i param: tamsi ro yokkun shasojon, Hyewon (Seoul, South Korea), 1987.

Iron nararul asinayo, Koryowon (Seoul, South Korea), 1987.

Yonkkot mannago kanun param a, Sinwon Munhwasa (Seoul, South Korea), 1989.

Poems of So Chong-ju, translated by David R. McCann, Columbia University Press (New York, NY), 1989.

Kkot ui kyohyangak 299-pon: saengjon siin 108-myong ui kkot ul sojae ro han ensolloji, Toso Ch'ulp'an Munhwa Haengdong (Seoul, South Korea), 1990.

Midang So Chong-ju si chonjip, Minumsa (Seoul, South Korea), 1991.

Ssukkuksai iyagi, Minumsa (Seoul, South Korea), 1991.

Ijulsu omnun mal han madi: Kim Tong-gil, Yu An-jin oe 99-in ui kul, Onui (Seoul, South Korea), 1991.

Sansi, Minumsa (Seoul, South Korea), 1991.

P'inun kkpt, Paengnok (Seoul, South Korea), 1991.

Mogi nun ottok'e haeso saenggyo nannun'ga, Minumsa (Seoul, South Korea), 1991.

Honja soman ta mogo porinun yoja, Minumsa (Seoul, South Korea), 1991.

Kaeguri ka k'okkire ttal kwa kyourhonhan iyhagi (juvenile; title means "The Story about a Frog Who Married an Elephant's Daughter"), Minumsa (Seoul, South Korea), 1991.

Ap'urik'a kkomjong yangbandul ui susukkekki, Minumsa (Seoul, South Korea), 1991.

P'ururun nal, Miraesa (Seoul, South Korea), 1991.

Noja omnun nagune kil, Sinwon Munhwasa (Seoul, South Korea), 1992.

Munhak ul kongbuhanun cholmun ch'in'gudul ege: Midang sanmun, Minumsa (Seoul, South Korea), 1993.

Kyonu wa Chingnyo, Minumsa (Seoul, South Korea), 1993.

Yonkkot iyagi, Minumsa (Seoul, South Korea), 1993.

Sonnyo wa ppokkuksae, Minumsa (Seoul, South Korea), 1993.

San tongachul kwa chugun tongachul, Minumsa (Seoul, South Korea), 1993.

Hanunim ui adunim kwa paegirhongkkot namu, Minumsa (Seoul, South Korea), 1993.

Midang So Chong-ju: The Early Lyrics, 1941-1960, translation by Brother Anthony of Taizé, Forest Books (Boston, MA), 1993.

Mindeullekkot, Chongusa (Seoul, South Korea), 1994.

Midang chasojon, Minumsa (Seoul, South Korea), 1994.

Midang ui segye pangnanggi, Minyedang (Seoul, South Korea), 1994.

Unam Yi Sung-man chon, Hwasan Munhwa Kihoe (Seoul, South Korea), 1995.

'95 hyonjang ip'yongga ka ppobun orhae ui choun si, Hyondae Munhak (Seoul, South Korea), 1995.

Na ui si, na ui si ssugi, T'odam (Seoul, South Korea), 1995.

Poems of a Wanderer: Selected Poems of Midang So Chong-ju, translated by Kevin O'Rourke, Dedalus Press (Dublin, Ireland), 1995.

'96 hyonjang ip'yongga ka ppobun orhae ui choun si, Hyondae Munhak (Seoul, South Korea), 1996.

Inyon, Minjoksa (Seoul, South Korea), 1997.

Kyonu ui norae, Choun nal (Seoul, South Korea), 1997.

A, Cholla-do! ku hwangt'o pit iyagi: Honam 33-in taep'yo sisonjip, Sehun (Seoul, South Korea), 1997.

80 sonyon Tt_dori _i si, Si wa Sihaksa (Seoul, South Korea), 1997.

Pam i kip'umyon, Tapke (Seoul, South Korea), 1998.

'98 hyonjang ip'yongga ka ppobun orhae ui choun si, Hyondae Munhak (Seoul, South Korea), 1998.

Manhae Han Yong-un hansison, Minumsa (Seoul, South Korea), 1999.

Chilmajae ro tora kada, Marae Munhwasa (Seoul, South Korea), 2001.


As Michael Alexander noted in Agenda, South Korean literature "is little known in [the West], where it is overshadowed by that of China and Japan." Until the fifteenth century, Korean literature was written in Chinese characters, and it would be another four centuries before, as Alexander explained, the Korean Hangul alphabet "replace[ed] Chinese in official and general use." The transition to Hangul had occurred by the time So Chong-ju began his literary career under the pen name Midang, and became one of the foremost poets of twentieth-century Korea.

The first thirty years of So's life coincided with the Japanese occupation of Korea; as a young man, So left high school and briefly entered a monastery with the goal of becoming a Buddhist monk, but found that writing held a stronger pull. By the time he began publishing his work, So had developed a strong style that some found shocking. He brought to Korean poetry a sensuality that distinguished him from his peers, according to some reviewers. With the publication of Hwasa in 1938, So became a national figure in his native country; the title poem, translated as "Flower Snake," begins on "A back road pungent with musk and mint / So beautiful, that snake … / What huge griefs brought it to birth? / Such a repulsive body!" The poem goes on to urge the snake to "bite vengefully!" Verses like these, commented Yearn Hong Choi in a World Literature Today review of So's collected works, "cannot impress today's readers, but it was read differently by Koreans in 1941." The reviewer felt that the thrashing of the snake represents "a young man's despair under the Japanese rule." "Flower Snake" also gained notoriety for its frankly sexual imagery, from the "lovely lips" of the snake stained with "Cleopatra's blood" to the young bride Sunnei's "catlike" mouth. The "Flower Snake poems," noted Hyangsoon Yi on Korea Web, "with its bold images, unabashed sexual exploration, and vigorous rhythmic pulse, occupies a conspicuous place in the history of modern Korean poetry." Another early poem by So, "Barley-time Summer" also invokes a serpent when it depicts "a girl stretched snake-like on the ground / sweating, sweating / as I drew dizzy, she drew me down."

Much of So's poetry predates the Korean War; following the conflict, the poet turned his imagery to visions of beauty. A 1953 collection contains the poem "Beside a Chrysanthemum," "which nearly all Koreans memorized and sang," according to Choi. The poem speaks directly to a chrysanthemum: "for your yellow petals to bloom the front must have come down like that last night and I was not even able to sleep." Such poetry, said Choi, "was naturally in tune with Korean rhythms." In 1998 selected translations were collected as Midang So Chong-ju: The Early Lyrics, 1941-1960. Hyangsoon Yi, reviewing the book for Korea Web, said that, read chronologically, "Midang's early lyrics reflect the artists' soul-searching peregrination. We see his youthful penchant for a language of the body, epitomized by European Symbolist poetics, Hellenic ideals, and Nietzschean philosophy, develop into a mature rediscovery of the spiritual world of Shamanism and Buddhism deeply entrenched in the traditional Korean culture."

So died in December, 2000, having been predeceased by his wife. At his death, the poet was remembered by translator Kevin O'Rourke in Korea Today as "far and away the best poet of [twentieth-century] Korea, primarily for his quality of imagination."



Agenda, autumn, 2000, Michael Alexander, "Curbside Doors: Modern Korean Poetry in Translation," pp. 153-156.

Quarterly Journal of Literature, Volume 22, 1981, pp. 7-12.

World Literature Today, autumn, 1994, Yearn Hong Choi, review of Midang So Chong-ju: The Early Lyrics, 1941-1960, p. 890.


Korea Web, (March 22, 2002), Hyangsoon Yi, review of The Early Lyrics, 1941-1960.



Korea Now, (March 9, 2002).