Oh Sae-young

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Oh Sae-young
Oh Sae-young at the Moscow International book fair, 10.9.2017
Oh Sae-young at the Moscow International book fair, 10.9.2017
Born Oh Sae-young
(1942-05-02) 2 May 1942 (age 76)
Occupation Writer
Nationality South Korean
Alma mater Seoul National University
Genre poems

Oh Sae-young (吳世榮, born May 2, 1942) is a South Korean poet, critic, and educator. His early work consisted of deconstructive poetry, but currently he mostly writes lyric poetry with Eastern philosophy. He served as a professor at the Seoul National University.

His poetry collection, Night-Sky Checkerboard (밤하늘의 바둑판), was published in the US and was selected as one of the twelve best poetry collections in the US for 2016 by the Chicago Review of Books.[1] He has been awarded the Korean Poets’ Association Prize, the Nokwon Literary Award, the Cheong Chi-Yong Literature Prize, the Pyun-Woon Literary Prize, the Gong Cho Literary Award, and the Manhae Literature Prize in Poetry.[2]


Oh Sae-young (吳世榮, born May 2, 1942) was born in Yeonggwang, Chonnam. He graduated from Seoul National University, and became a high school language teacher. He started his literary career in 1968 with the Hyundae Munhak Magazine. In 1970, he published his first poetry collection, Banranhaneun Bit (반란하는 빛 Rebelling Light). In 1972, he participated in the literary magazine Hyundae Poetry. In 1974, he was appointed as a full-time lecturer at Chungnam National University, and in 1980, he earned a doctorate degree in Korean literature from Seoul National University. In 1982, he participated in the inaugural assembly of the Asian Poets’ Association. In 1983 he published the essay collection, Seojeongjeok jinsil (서정적 진실 Lyrical Truth), and the collection of critical essays, Hyundaesiwa silcheonbipyeong (현대시와 실천비평 Modern Poetry and Practical Criticism). In 1987, he was awarded the inaugural Sowol Poetry Award, and was accepted into the IOWA International Writing Program. In 1994, he participated in the writing of a volume on literature as part of the Korean Studies Book Series, Lectures on Korean Literature, published by Story Brook University’s Center for Korean Studies. In the same year, he became a full professor at Seoul National University. In 1995, he lectured on modern Korean literature at the Department of East Asian Languages at U.C. Berkeley. In 2000, he was awarded the Manhae Literature Prize, and published translated versions of two of his poetry collections in Germany.[3] In 2006, he read poetry at the Berkeley Art Museum’s poetry festival, Speak Pacific – 100 years of modern Korean poetry, sponsored by U.C. Berkeley’s Department of East Asian Languages. In 2016, ‘Night-Sky Checkerboard’ was translated and published in the United States. This book was selected by a journal of reviews in the US, the Chicago Review of Books,[4] as one of the twelve best poetry collections of 2016 in the United States.[5]


Oh Sae-young’s early works had a lot of deconstructive poetry. Thus, he was often classified as a modernist poet. However, he did not simply stay fixed on linguistic experiments. He gradually became fascinated with Eastern philosophies, and based on that, he worked on lyrical depiction of humanity’s existential agony. Through poetry, he shows eternity and infinity, which should be naturally sought after when one is in a state of namelessness. He attempts to show the proper way of life that people with enlightened sense of existence must strive for. ‘Namelessness’ is a Buddhist word that describes a state when the mind has not yet reached intrinsic enlightenment, but rather captured by desires and ego.

Today, Oh Sae-young is described as a poet who has lyrical sense, philosophical intellect, and sophisticated linguistic awareness.[6] He writes as he bores into the double-sidedness and hypocrisy of existence. His major work, Sae (새 The Bird), depicts birds that soar into the sky toward the truth and freedom, but ultimately must fall, showing humanity’s fateful burden. Like how if a poem flies higher, the distance back to the ground get further, this work contains the insight that though humans strive endlessly for the ideal, they are ultimately fatalistic beings that must return to the ground.

The Chicago Review of Books have said that “Sae-young’s attention to detail, and his ability to shift back and forth between scopes both grand and minuscule, provide a sense that his poems are inextricably linked to something larger.” And that his poetry collections “work very much obsessed with existence, the building and destruction of nature, business, war, and industry. He unexpectedly examines merit, plays with worth, while lingering on the edge of past and present.”[7]


Poetry collections[edit]

  • Banranhaneun bit (반란하는 빛 Rebelling Light), Hyundae sihaksa, 1970
  • Gajang euduwun nal jeonyeok-e (가장 어두운 날 저녁에 The Evening of the Darkest Day), Seoul Munhaksa, 1982.
  • Mosunui heuk (모순의 흙 The Soil of Contradiction), Goryeowon, 1985.
  • Mumyeong yeonsi (무명연시 Nameless Beginning of the Year), Jeonyewon, 1986.
  • Bultaneun mul (불타는 물 The Burning Water), Munhwasasangsa, 1988.
  • Sarangui jeojjok (사랑의 저쪽 The Other Side of Love), Mihaksa, 1990.
  • Flowers Long for Stars (꽃들은 별을 우러르며 산다), Siwasihaksa, 1990.
  • Sinui haneul-edo eodumeun itda (신의 하늘에도 어둠은 있다 Darkness Exists Even in God’s Sky), Miraesa, 1991.
  • Eoriseokeun Hegel (어리석은 헤겔 Foolish Hegel), Goryeowon, 1994.
  • Nunmul-e eorineun haneul geurimja (눈물에 어리는 하늘 그림자 The Tearful Shadow in the Sky), Hyundae Munhaksa, 1994.
  • Neo eopseumeuro (너 없음으로 Because You Are Not There), Joeun nal, 1997.
  • Americasipyeon (아메리카시편 Psalms from America), Munhakdongne, 1997.
  • Jeokmyeolui bulbit (적멸의 불빛 The Light of Death), Munhwasasangsa, 2001.
  • Baramui geurimja (바람의 그림자 The Shadow of the Wind), Cheonnyeonui sijak, 2009.
  • Night-Sky Checkerboard (밤하늘의 바둑판), Seojeongsihak, 2011.
  • Baramui adeuldeul (바람의 아들들 The Sons of the Wind), Hyundaesihak, 2014.
  • Gaeul Bitsori (가을 빗소리 The Sound of Autumn Rain), Cheonnyeonui sijak, 2016.

Reverse poetry collections[edit]

  • Oh, Sae-Young, Flowers Long For Stars, Pgw, 2016

Research papers[edit]

  • “Hanguknangmanju-uisi yeongu” (한국낭만주의시 연구 Study on Romantic Korean Poetry), Il Ji Sa, 1980.
  • Munhwayeongubangbeobron (문화연구방법론 Methodology for Cultural Studies), I-uchulpansa, 1998.
  • Hangukhyeondaesi bunseokjeok ilki (한국현대시 분석적 읽기 Analytical Reading of Modern Korean Poetry), Korea University Press, 1998.
  • 20segi hanguksi yeongu (20세기 한국시 연구 Study on 20th Century Korean Poetry), Saemoon Books, 1989.
  • Hangukgeundaemunhakrongwa geundaesi (한국근대문학론과 근대시 Theories on Contemporary Korean Literature and Contemporary Poetry), Minumsa, 1996.
  • Hangukhyeondaesi-inyeongu (한국현대시인연구 Study on Modern Korean Poets), Worin Publishing, 2003.
  • Theory of Literature (문학과 그 이해), Kookhak, 2003.
  • 20segi hanguksi-inron (20세기 한국시인론 Theory of 20th Century Korean Poets), Worin Publishing, 2005.
  • Si sseugi-ui balgyeon (시 쓰기의 발견 Writing Poetry), Seojeongsihak, 2013.
  • Siron (시론 Theory of Poetry), Seojeongsihak, 2013.

Critical essay collections[edit]

  • Seojeongjeok jinsil (서정적 진실 The Lyrical Truth), Minjokmunhwasa, 1983.
  • Hyeondaesiwa silcheonbipyeong (현대시와 실천비평Modern Poetry and Its Criticisms), I-uchulpansa, 1983.
  • Hangukhyeondaesi-ui haengbang (한국현대시의 행방 Where Modern Korean Poetry Is Now), Jongro Books, 1988.
  • Sangsangryeokgwa nonri (상상력과 논리 Creativity and Logic), Minumsa, 1991.
  • Byeonhyeokgiwa hanguk hyeondaesi (변혁기와 한국 현대시 The Age of Revolution and Modern Korean Poetry), Saemi, 1996.

Works in Translation[edit]


  • 1983 Korean Poets’ Association Prize
  • 1984 Nokwon Literary Award for Literary Criticism
  • 1986 Sowol Poetry Prize
  • 1992 Cheong Chi-yong Literature Prize
  • 1992 Pyun-Woon Literary Prize for Literary Criticsm
  • 2000 Manhae Prize
  • 2012 Mogwol Literature Prize


  1. ^ Chicago Review of Books
  2. ^ Doopedia
  3. ^ Naver Blog
  4. ^ Chicago Review of Books
  5. ^ Munhwa Ilbo
  6. ^ Kim, Seongi, Namdo hyundae simunhakui sanchaek (남도 현대 시문학의 산책 Walk Through Contemporary Poetry in Namdo), Chonnam National University Press, 2007: 136.
  7. ^ Chicago Review of Books
  8. ^ "오세영 | Digital Library of Korean Literature (LTI Korea)". library.klti.or.kr. Retrieved 2017-12-01.

Further reading[edit]

  • Lee, Songhoe, “The Cognitive Structure and Conscious Existence in Oh Sae-young’s Poetry”, Haneomungyoyook 24, Association of Korean Literature Education, 2011.
  • Oh, Sae-young, “Reading Oh Sae-young’s First Poetry Collection Again – Fall 2”, Siansa, 2003.
  • Kim, Yunjeong, “Study on ‘Mythological Language” Shown in Oh Sae-young’s Poetry”, Academy of Korean Studies, 2006.
  • Editors, “Biographies of Poets – Biography of Oh Sae-young”, Jakgasegye 28, 2016.