Narrative approaches to lyric poetry: On Kim Sowöl’s 'The Azaleas'

Yong Ho Choi

Abstract


This paper aims at illustrating how narrative theories can apply to the analysis of lyric poetry with an example from Korean literature: The Azaleas by Kim Sowöl. This poem in seven-and-five-syllable meter as well as with its thematic aspect that is concerned with lamentation or broken heart is considered the most representative of the folkloric tradition in the history of Korean lyric poetry. Based on Hühn’s work on “Transgeneric narratology”, I proposed here to analyze the so-called mental story of this poem from a narratological point of view that covers, among many others, the following three topics: i) text and norm; ii) story and discourse; iii) thematic and narrative. First, reading a poetic text inevitably leads us to the poetic tradition serving as an interpretative norm, whether it is explicit or implicit. So the image of scattering flowers in this poem, for instance, cannot be fully understood without reference to the Buddhist tradition in which it is interpreted in terms of charity or mercy. Second, the mental story relative to this symbolic act is doubly mediated – put in narrative terms, by a voice that speaks on the one hand and, on the other by eyes that see - so as to manifest itself in the form of a poetic discourse. Third, the narrative strategy at work in this poem, here considered in Greimas’ terms, pinpoints the ironic aspect of its thematic: so the story of parting in appearance turns out to be a love returning in the end.

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