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Renowned scholar and poet passes away

Apr 10,2017
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Kim Jong-gil
Kim Jong-gil, one of Korea’s most renowned scholars of English literature, passed away on April 1.

He was 90 years old.

Kim - who was also a celebrated poet, literature theorist and emeritus professor of English literature at Korea University - reportedly struggled with grief after his wife passed away last month, according to his children.

Born in 1926 in Andong, North Gyeongsang, Kim began his literary career in 1947 winning the Spring Literary Award of the Kyunghyang Sinmun. The following year, he switched from a Korean language and literature major at Dongguk University to English language and literature at Korea University, to study under Lee In-su, who was one of Korea’s earliest experts in the English-Korean literary translation.

Kim helped Lee translate “Waste Land” by T. S. Eliot (1888-1965). In 1961, he met the British writer as well as other well-known literary writers and critics, and wrote about his experience in a newspaper.

It was 1969 that he published his first collection of poems, “Christmas.” Most Koreans associate him with the beautiful poem of the same title, as it was printed in Korean school textbooks.

Because Kim grew up in an environment dominated by Chinese classics and Confucian tradition, critics say his literary world is where Western modernism and Confucius humanism intertwine. Literary critic Lee Nam-ho said Kim’s works display “spiritual unrighteousness” that are based on two things: clarity in images and dignity in classics.

Kim warned against poet’s composing poems without inner struggle and was also strict on himself, writing only two to three poems a year.

He published other collections of his poems, “Yellow Dust,” in 1986; “An Evening Primrose” in 1997; “Gleaning at Dusk” in 2008; “Those Things” in 2009; and “Kite” in 2013.

One of his students, Kim Yang-soon, currently a professor of English language at Hanbat National University, said being a poet Kim Jong-gil’s translation technique often surprised his students. Among his translation work, Kim translated into Korean “Wuthering Heights” (1847) by Emily Bronte (1818-1848) and also translated into English the poetry of Kim Chun-su (1922-2004).

He won many awards including Inchon Award in 1996; Gosan Literary Award in 2005; Manhae Award in 2009; as well as the Korean government’s Silver Order of Merit for Culture in 2008.

“I will sorely miss his lively commentaries of English poetry,” poet Choi Jeong-rye said.

BY SHIN JUNE-BONG
[hkim@joongang.co.kr]