Tag Archives: korean literature

There is a white wall by Baek Seok

(translated from the Korean by geul)


This evening, on the white wall of this small and narrow room

for some reason, only melancholy things come and go.

On this white wall

a dim 15-candle bulb throws off a tired light,

a grimey threadbare shirt rests its dark shadow,

and my various and sundry lonely thoughts wander about thinking how I would like some sweet hot gamju*.

But what’s this?

On this white wall

is my poor old mother.

My poor old mother,

though it’s such a bluishly-bobbing cold day, has her hands in the icy water washing radishes and cabbages.

The person I love is also there.

The beautiful person that I love

has made cod fish soup and is sitting down to dinner across from her husband, in a squat house down south by a river.

Already a mother, she is eating dinner with the youngster by her side.

And again before you know it

on this white wall

looking at my melancholy face

the following words go by:

– I was born to live a poor, lonely, high, and melancholy life in this world.

And living in this world

my heart is too full of the passionate, the solitary and too full of love and sadness.

And this time as if to console me, as if in solidarity, signaling with the eyes, the fist, these words go past:

– When Heaven created the world, what it loved and cherished the most were all made to live a

poor, lonely, high, melancholy life and always in the midst of overflowing love and sadness.

Like the crescent moon, the gourd flower, the crow tit, and the donkey

and also like Francis Jamme, Tao Yuanming and Rainer Maria Rilke.


*gamju (감주) fermented drink made from rice

poem in Korean



Postcard, Postcard by Kim Kyeong-mi

translated from the Korean by geul


Was it just twice? And that was together with other people
And that was just having a meal together
And that was a year maybe two years ago?
Does he even know my name? Since that was all, it’s the same as not knowing me, right?
Still when I feel melancholy and no one’s around
For some reason I think of it without meaning to
For example, when I see a nice picture postcard under this kind of foreign sky
I write to this person who likely has less interest in me than a postage stamp
because I’m comfortably far away and what’s more without the anxiety of being hurt
as if I were his lover as if he missed me
Dear, you will in the end never know you are being loved in this way
because I will write a few words and then tear it up in my heart
and throw it away in that river that I’ve seen for the first time
Poor dear, you’re probably chewing your dinner without even knowing you’ve been abandoned
When I’m also eating alone and get lonely I think
could there also be someone who secretly thinks about me
I mean could I maybe be happy like that without my knowing it…?



poem in Korean

Thank you, for a certain time in that life by Heo Su-kyeong

(translated from the Korean by geul)


That time, I ask. Why were you so cold to me​?

Then you will ask me. That time, why were you so hot towards me?

When we were hot or cold, met or missed each other, were holding each other or idling together, that time,

When our hearts, for example, like deer would circle the plain of the wide universe to return to each other,

When we were hot or cold, hated each other or loved each other, that time,

I am thankful to just have been born and were able to feel a certain time



poem in Korean

Poem Easily Written by Yun Dong-ju

(translated from the Korean by geul)


Outside the window the night rain whispers
this 6-tatami* room is somebody else’s country,


Even though I know
being a poet is a sad fate
shall I try writing a line of poetry? ​


On receiving from home the envelope with money for school,
which gives off a scent of sweat and love


I go to listen to the old professor’s lecture
with college notebook under my arm.


If I think about it, having lost one, two –
all my friends from childhood


Am I simply precipitating to the bottom alone,
hoping for what?


They say living life is hard –
poetry written this easily
is a shameful thing.


This 6-tatami room is somebody else’s country,
the night rain whispers outside the window,


I light a lamp to push out the darkness a little, and
the last Me,
waiting for morning to arrive, like an era.


I, extending a small hand to myself
with tears and consolation,
grasping the first handshake.



poem in Korean

*The poet, Yun Dong-ju, wrote the poem while studying abroad in Japan during the time of the Japanese occupation of Korea. A 6-tatami mat room is about 100 square feet or 9 square meters.

Temple of Love by Yun Dong-ju

translated from the Korean by geul


Soon*, when did you come into my palace?
When did I go into your palace?

Our temple,
ancient customs — the temple of young love

Soon, close your crystal eyes like the doe
I shall comb through my tangled hair like the lion
Our love was no more than a mute

Before the searing flame of the sacred candle goes out
Soon, you race out the front door
Before wind and darkness batter our windowpane
I shall vanish out the back, far away
with eternal love in my arms

And now
for you there is a cozy lake in the forest
for me there are rugged mountains ahead


*Soon is a girl’s name

poem in Korean

White Night by Ki Hyeong-do

translated by geul from the Korean

The snow ceases.
In the cloudy windowpane of a house in Incheon a light goes out
The sky floats like a hard board
stuck between low roofs
The wind easily wraps the dirty walls
with an inestimable width
The sleety snow splatters upward screaming
A fellow is walking slowly
through the subtitles of a scratched-up black and white film
curved fingers like some farm tool, the fellow manages
to remember a few bottles worth of intoxication left somewhere
parts with the last cigarette in front of a shuttered shop.
Although the vacant alley is melancholy like a spread blanket
sleety snow above the low candlelight
the sound of a few coughs drawn-out and shaking.
Passing beneath a few darkly frozen signboards
arms swinging, where is the fellow going?
This night, where light cannot be distinguished from darkness
banging brilliant, this fearsome white night
making a snow path that hardens the more with each step
his fretful young son on his back under an army parka



poem in Korean

The Specialist by Ki Hyeong-do

translated from the Korean by geul


The man who moved in was a strange person
The walls around his house were all made of glass

Out of a moment’s error
The careless children playing in the alley
smashed the glass wall that
reflected the abundant sunshine

But children, it doesn’t matter
the glass can always be replaced
play in the alley, as much as you want

The face of the child who broke the glass had turned bright red
but the other children, who had a strange expression on their faces,
soon enjoyed themselves as children will
The child who insisted
How about building the wall out of sturdy pine board
was immediately exiled from that lovely alley

The glass wall was broken anew each day
After a certain requisite period, all the children of the neighborhood
became the man’s faithful subordinate

One day when the man removed the glass walls, it became clear
that the alley was the place that received the least amount of sunlight
the children, standing in a line,
carried bricks back and forth in silence


poem in Korean


Lump of Sorrow by Kim So-wol

(translated from the Korean by geul)

Incense offered up kneeling.
A small lump of sorrow in my chest.
In the shadow of the slivered moon raindrops weep.
A small lump of sorrow in my chest.


poem in Korean


Bak Shi-bong’s residence, Yudong, Namshineuiju by Baek Seok

(translated from the Korean by geul)


(image source: Soojung Cho Art Gallery)



One day I found myself without a wife, and

without the house where my wife and I lived,

far from the bosom of my parents and siblings,

wandering the end of some lonely and windy road.

As it was getting dark soon,

and the wind blowing harder, the cold coming on,

I rented a frigid room, whose floor was covered in old reed mats,

in a carpenter’s home.

And so, alone I thought of many things day and night

in this cold and damp room that smelled of mold,

and when a bit of burning straw was brought in a clay dish,

I held it, warming my hands, writing some letters in the ashes meaninglessly,

not leaving the room, lying down,

with my hands linked behind my head, lolling about,

I kept chewing the cud of my sadness and foolishness.

When my heart was too full,

and something hot welled up in my eyes,

and my face grew hot and red with shame,

I felt I must die from the weight of my sadness and foolishness.

But after a while I lifted my head,

and gazed at the whitish window and door, or the high ceiling,

then I thought about how hard it is to push myself forward by my own strength or will,

and I thought that there was something higher and bigger that was rolling me along,

In this way a number of days passed,

during which, in my turbulent heart sadness, sighs and things that would settle gradually turned to sediment and settled,

and when only lonely thoughts came to me,

and at evening when the windblown sleet would pelt the window and door,

on such evenings I would move even closer to the brazier, get on my knees,

I would think of that solid and untainted buckhorn tree that’s said to be so uncommon,

standing by its lonesome far off on some mountainside next to a rock,

snowed on as the dark comes on, rustling of the wind

on the dry leaves as the snow falls on them.




* The title is written in a way a person renting a room in another’s home might have addressed an envelope.



poem in Korean

Rose-tinted Life by Ki Hyeong-do

(translated from the Korean by geul)

A man in his prime opens the door and enters
As he takes off his hat, his salt and pepper hair,
like his shabby overcoat, is revealed
He pushes all that is his into a creaky wooden chair
he wraps his healthy and greedy hands
around a ridiculously small cup
Has he ever, even once, with those large hands,
grabbed a likely opponent by the scruff of his neck
The man is silent, instead of moving his eyes aimlessly,
he is exploiting certain experiences, focusing on one place,
To unravel the knot of crowded events, how many cruel customers did he glower
like that of those who have tasted doubt and temptation many times over
Those shoulders that resolutely refuse any and all disorder of the body
those lips that seemed to be moved by a certain jealousy
ears hidden by a strand of hair, that certainly would have dreamed of being the
However, who would dare to take on that man’s responsibility
The man continues to remain silent, he pulls something from his thick coat
as if he’d just thought of it for the first time
thrusting aside the dogged resistance of loneliness,
as if steeled for any kind of showdown
the man looks around, the expression that walks above his face
He pushes all that is his into a creaky wooden chair
with it he begins to dig into the tabletop
his burly frame bending forward, ploddingly
but anxiously, supplying strength to his own command

I hate life


poem in Korean