Category Archives: Hwang Ji-wu

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


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.

Ache-in-the-bone Regret by Hwang Ji-wu

(translated from the Korean by geul)


I’m sad

Every place in which I’ve loved

is all a wreck

Completely breaking
Leaving everything completely broken, as if without that insignia
you couldn’t say you’ve sincerely loved
The people who’ve come to me,
each damaged in a few places,
have left

In my heart always the moving desert shrine in the haze;
there is sand driven in, to the inner chamber erected by the wind’s pillar,
the faggots rolling around roots and all,
and sand rasps in the ear of a dead beast
drying up in the sun

Not through any kind of love or lunacy
could we enter this monstrous place
together. My squirming desert,
in the end, the feverish idol
that could not abandon the self rose up crimson and groaned
and the spaces of my love are all in ruins

That I have never loved anyone;
passing through this world who knows when we’ll return to
my ache-in-the-bone regret is just that
not for anyone,
that I have never once loved anyone

In my youth, my self-imposed hardships
were never in sacrifice for anyone
sacrifices for me, no more than a competitiveness commanded by duty;
could that also be a power? For those who don’t even have that
how splendid sacrifice must be

Thus, I didn’t love anyone
my ruin that no one ever entered;
only the wind breathing the words of the sand
in the ear of the dead beast lingered and passed by
I now wait for no one
No one believes me or expects anything of me


About Hwang Ji-wu

poem in original Korean