Monthly Archives: January 2018

On a Melancholy Day by Kang Yun-hu

(translated from the Korean by geul)

 

Often I want to tell you how I am
how even after you left I’m doing just fine
industriously going through the world’s food supply
wearing an expression that life couldn’t be better
meeting people, brazenly making up lies
as not to be found out and when I get drunk
boasting confidently
Often, yes, very often I want to let you know
of those days that are as sorry as my boasts
About how I’m full of suspicion as ever and that sordid
cheapness that can only be honest only after I
achieve some peace and fall asleep stupidly
raggedly of my squalid waiting
I want to tell you and decorate your happiness
About living without being sad or sorry in the least bit
a troubled time when only the migratory birds keep promises
though I strew about empty promises to any
woman who comes along
As when a pencil lead breaks if you press too hard
still like an opium addict while gathering
memories of you I abruptly take a misstep and
vainly lean against the wind and open my ears
because it seems maybe from some far off
place where I can’t see you, often you’re sending me a
telegram about how you are

 

poem in Korean

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Even the Birds Are Taking Off by Hwang Ji-wu

(translated from the Korean by geul)

 

Before the movie starts we

all stand up and listen to the national anthem.

For purple mountain majesties

In Eursukdo forming a fixed flock

the white birds lifting off from the field of reeds

squawk amongst themselves

snicker amongst themselves.

In first, second, third line formation they

pull off their world from this world and

shouldering it, fly off somewhere outside this world.

If only we too could together

snickering

fooling around

in a great formation

pull off a world and shouldering it

fly off somewhere outside this world.

But above the fruited plain

as God sheds his grace on each

each sits down in his seat

crumples down.

 

poem in Korean

 

This poem presents a translation challenge because of its use of portions of the Korean national anthem in its lines for sarcastic effect. The effect is lost if the reader does not know the anthem in the way a native of the country does. What I did was to replace the lines of the Korean national anthem with some lines of “America the Beautiful,” a patriotic American song, so that at least American readers will appreciate the sarcasm. (I apologize to readers from other countries for my partiality.) Of course it’s bizarre to have these lines appear in a Korean poem, especially one where a Korean place name appears and where there is a specific historical Korean scenerio described. This scenerio, rising for the national anthem before a movie begins in a theater to show respect for the country, takes place during the dictatorship period. It seems the speaker is describing some images of birds taking off that are shown on the screen while the national anthem is being played. The speaker envies the freedom of these birds as compared to the lack thereof experienced by the theater audience.


Confessions (참회록) by Yun Dong-ju (윤동주)

(translated from the Korean by geul)

 

Of what dynasty
could the tarnished green copper mirror be a relic
that my face lingering within it
brings on such disgrace

*

Let’s reduce the confession to a single line.
— Twenty four years and one month
for what happiness have I lived?

*

 Tomorrow or the day after or on any joyful day
I have to write another line of my confessions.
— Then, at that young age
why did I make such a shameful confession?

*

Each night let’s clean the mirror
with the palm of my hand, with the sole of my foot.

 *

Then the back of a sad person
walking alone under some shooting star
appears in the mirror.

 

poem in Korean


Twenties

 

It was an age when the beauty of the world drove you mad
liquified in your veins
and fed the sadness of your future death

Only self-immolation could cool your heat


At the Last (최후) by Yi Sang (이상)

(translated from the Korean by geul)

 

An apple fell. The Earth fell sick enough to fall to pieces. At the last. Already no spirit whatsoever burgeons.

 

poem in Korean

about Yi Sang


Another Hometown by Yun Dong-ju

translated from the Korean by geul

 

 

The night I returned to my hometown
my skeleton followed me and lay down in the room with me.

*

The dark room opens up out into the universe,
could it be from the skies – the wind blows in like sound.

*

Looking closely
at the finely weathering skeleton
with tears welling up – is it me weeping?
Or is it the skeleton weeping?
Or is it the beautiful soul that’s weeping?

*

The faithful dog
stays up all night and barks at the darkness.

*

The dog barking at the darkness
is no doubt pursuing me.

*

Let’s go let’s go
like a person on the run.
Keeping the skeleton in the dark
Let’s move on to yet another lovely hometown.

 

poem in Korean


Moonchild

 

he had a dirty-blond goatee
the hem of his pants were frayed
and the threads dragged

*

he said he was a football player
in high school
then giggled

*

in the dark of his small room
we sat on the floor
drinking plum tea

*

listening to King Crimson
waiting for the sun on the mountain
out in the hall people laughed


The Wind Blows by Yun Dong-ju

(translated from the Korean by geul)

 

 

The wind blows
where does the wind blow from
where is it blown to

*

The wind blows but
my anguish has no reason

*

Is there no reason for my anguish

*

Not a single woman have I loved
nor have I mourned the times

*

The wind keeps blowing but
my feet stand upon a rock

*

The river keeps flowing but
my feet stand upon a hill

 

poem in Korean