River of Life, River of Hope is the first substantial survey in English of the work of one of Korea’s most revered and influential modern poets, Pak Tu-jin. Pak helped free modern Korean literature in the 1940s from its preoccupation with decadence and fashionable literary trends, finding a new voice rooted in nature and Korean traditions. Pak also represents Christian faith and original philosophical reflection in the development of modern Korean culture and he writes poignantly of his own spiritual struggles. He stood courageously, and at great cost, for freedom and human rights during the long years of military dictatorship in recent Korean history and the strength of his convictions brings vitality and power to his works.
Pak’s aesthetic is strikingly Korean, but his voice echoes legends and traditions from many aspects of world and Asian cultures. To read his work is to enter a swirling world of political and cultural conflict, but also to find within a great heart exulting in the joy of life. The love poems and lyric verses provide a balance to the moral indignation of the poems of social comment and protest.
Pak’s verse is accessible, covering a wide range of feeling, even when some layers of meaning within the imagery may elude the reader’s grasp. Pak is a fascinating guide to recent Korean history, to the stories forming modern Korean consciousness, and to the hearts of people engaged in the ordinary — but extraordinary — struggles and relationships of life.