Flesh wood percussion: The DONG-A ILBO


There are fish carved in wood in mountain temples. You would wonder when you see a big wooden fish swinging in the wind: what is a fish doing in the middle of the forest? What does a fish have to do with Buddha? Some links to the old legend of the fish, and it is also said to mean that you should continue to devote yourself to Buddha without stumbling your eyes like the fish. When this carved wooden fish wears down and its surface is smoothed, it becomes the moktak (wooden percussion) we know. This means that the moktak that the monks were patting came from a fish from the distant sea long ago.

And the following may explain why. When we look at moktak, we think of fish, but poet Bae Han-bong offers a similar but completely different idea. It evokes a wooden percussion of flesh on the fish, not a moktak or a wooden percussion. In the early morning, at the fish market, the fish are caught and brought to shore and stirred vigorously. When a fish makes a sound while moving its whole body on the ground erratically, it’s as if my body is being beaten against the moktak. The most miserable time in life is the most painful time, but the time when the desire to live is most sought after, so there is little you can do but make these futile gestures. The fish has no choice but to squirm as if its life depended on it. The poet did not choose to describe the floating dawn of the fish as a bustling market or a surging vitality, for he saw himself in the twisting of his body as the fish twists and turns on the ground.

We have seen fish in this poem, but not only fish. Instead of the smell of fish, it is filled with the smell of tears, the smell of people, and the smell of sweat. Even though I came across the word “yuktak” (flesh wood percussion) for the first time today, I feel like I’ve already studied and become somewhat familiar with it. It may look like a story that belongs to someone else, but after all, it is our portrait. That’s what poetry is, essentially.

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