Wolhee Choe
Professor of Humanities and Communications (emerita), Polytechnic Institute of NYU

Carpe diem (seize the day, 현재를 즐겨라) poems were rare during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). Why didn’t Joseon poets revel with love in the western sense of falling in love, loving, or falling out of love?  We could express that Confucian ethics that shunned passion may have limited poetic subjects to a traditional few: parting, longing, and dreaming. But such conjecture cannot fully assess the character of Joseon love poems.  Here we explore instead the poetic resonance of the passive stance in lovers’ separation and dreams. The stance that defies the passage of time and creates spatial time to which lovers submit; we explore the meaning of this submission in which lovers simultaneously recognize, and resign themselves into, power beyond human nature.  This is why Joseon dynasty love poems tend to be more metaphysical than psychological. Love has happened but exists only as an absence to what the lover longs for and suffers from. Such lyrical resignation precludes the drama of love—the ecstasy of the moment or the conflict of interest but allows an expansion of consciousness and self-knowledge.