Kim Sowŏl's biography, like that of other writers of his period, combines foreign influences, traditional forms, and a spirit of nationalism. One of the most beloved poets of his country even though his literary production is quite sparse, Kim Sowŏl, whose real name was Kim Chŏngsik, was born in the region of north P'yŏng'an, today the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. Brought up in straitened circumstances, he could attend school only intermittently. At a young age he began writing poetry, publishing his early works in the literary reviews Ch'angjo and Kaebyŏk.
He moved to Japan in 1923 or 1924, intending to go into business and improve his economic situation, but he failed in his objectives and went back to Korea. Nothing is known about his Japanese sojourn, from which he returned poorer than ever, but it must have been a determining influence on his poetry, the bulk of which was composed during the years 1920-25.
Doubt subsists as to whether or not he was a poet of resistance against the Japanese invader and a standard-bearer of nationalism and Korean cultural identity. What is certain is that he made a happy compromise between Eastern tradition on the one hand, in which the human being, far from being the “measure of all things, ” becomes painfully aware of the impossibility of overcoming the limitations imposed by marvelous, ineffable, and sovereign nature; and, on the other hand, the mature knowledge, understanding, and judgment that followed his readings of foreign works, mainly during his sojourn in Japan. He certainly must have read the French poets, some of whom (Baudelaire, Verlaine, Rimbaud) had been translated by Kim Ōk (1893-?, also called Anso), who had been Sowŏl's teacher in secondary school.
Kim Sowŏl did not adhere to any particular intellectual current, even if certain of his themes are similar to those adopted by the literary figures grouped around