Back to Heaven

Baek Ma-ri (Kim Seolhyun) in 2015 Korean Drama Orange Marmalade 오렌지 마말레이드

Thoughts drift on and on, in Orange Marmalade‘s 18-year-old male lead‘s mind, to a fresh-faced and slender transfer student who slows down time every so often when she enters his vision, as night segues into day and the guitar ballad crooning about love through the passing seasons in the background segues into a classroom recitation of the last stanza of Cheon Sang-byeong (1930-1993)’s well-loved poem:

귀천 (歸天)

나 하늘로 돌아가리라.
새벽빛 와 닿으면 스러지는
이슬 더불어 손에 손을 잡고,

나 하늘로 돌아가리라.
노을빛 함께 단 둘이서
기슭에서 놀다가 구름 손짓하면은,

나 하늘로 돌아가리라.
아름다운 이 세상 소풍 끝내는 날,
가서, 아름다웠더라고 말하리라…..

Back to Heaven

I will go back to heaven.
Hand in hand with the dew
that vanishes at the touch of dawn light,

I will go back to heaven.
Together with the dusk light and nothing more
should the clouds beckon me while I play on the slopes,

I will go back to heaven.
On the day I wrap up my excursion on this beautiful world,
I will go, and remark that it was beautiful…..

(References: 1 | 2 )

However, neither the ballad nor the poem would have seemed an entirely appropriate accompaniment for a biopic on Cheon at first glance. At the age of 37, the poet was wrongfully jailed for six months on charges of espionage, during which he was subject to brutal torture. The experience left him alcoholic and impotent. Around four years later, he collapsed on a street and ended up in an asylum, where the only things he could remember were his name and that he was a poet. Thankfully, his relatives and friends found him months afterwards, and his psychological symptoms abated after a woman who one year later became his wife started visiting him. The couple, nonetheless, lived in desperate poverty. All the same, in 1979, seven years into his marriage, “Back to Heaven” was born.

Had Cheon painted a more negative picture of life, he would be somewhat justified. To begin with, it would have been a more honest assessment of his experiences. Reminders of past adversities can also keep one on alert for similar dangers coming his way. Attention to unsatisfactory current circumstances may spur a person to remedy them. These two advantages are, in fact, among causes proposed for the evolution of depressive disorders. The key here is to perform the equivalents for positive aspects of life—remembering pleasant events in the past to understand how to seek happiness again, and appreciating favorable circumstances in the present to retain them. This would be an objective approach, and a logical one at that.

Jung Jae-min (Yeo Jin-goo) and Baek Ma-ri (Seolhyun of AOA) in 2015 Korean drama Orange Marmalade

“On a path where seasons pass through, I met you.”

Nevertheless, when there is really no remedy for a problem, or when any destructive emotions unleashed are too overwhelming, especially to the point of undermining overall personal well-being, it is perhaps wiser to simply let go. To be fair, a person has to first exhaust all problem-solving resources available to him, while practicing emotional management. Yet, at some point, he has to accept that he has reached his limits. The logical approach in this case would thus be a biased approach, like the kind adopted by Cheon.

In “Back to Heaven,” Cheon elevates himself above the ugly human realities he has been exposed to, viewing the world instead with angelic purity and childlike carefreeness. Under his pen, the impermanence and unpredictability of life, which some other person may disparage as capriciousness, confer upon it an almost magical quality. In his imagination, the human experience, for all its vicissitudes, is but a spell of play in Nature’s backyard. Not only does he affirm the beauty that exists amidst hardships, he also chooses to retain only memories of joy and deliver a positive verdict of life on Earth to the angels above without reservation.

Jung Jae-min (Yeo Jin-goo) and Baek Ma-ri (Seolhyun of AOA) in a guitar-playing scene in 2015 Korean drama Orange Marmalade

“Memories accumulate one by one.”

Remarkably, too, the poet harbors no greed for the earthly pleasures he can find. As evident from the first two stanzas, he is ready to give up everything when his time comes. His happiness springs from the beautiful world but is not obstinately attached to it. This independent spirit enables him to face death with equanimity. But the same may be said of facing life as well. If one enslaves himself to the pursuit of every object of beauty he sees around, regardless of its relative importance and practical value and how realistic his goal is, the rose-tinted view of life becomes a trap. It is therefore beneficial to recognize that the essence of witnessing beauty lies in the sensations the mind produces, from near or afar, not in the physical possession of anything.

That may indeed be why stories of saccharine high school romance continue to hold some of us spellbound long after we have sailed past teenagehood and married our own true loves.

Jung Jae-min (Yeo Jin-goo) and Baek Ma-ri (Seolhyun of AOA) in 2015 Korean drama Orange Marmalade

The Poem                  The Drama                    Poetry Resources                    Drama Resources

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