Tag Archives: poetry

Heavenward (귀천) by Cheon Sang-byeong (천상병)

(translated from the Korean by geul)

 

I shall return to heaven.

*

When dawn alights, hand
in hand with the vanishing dew

*

I shall return to heaven.
Together with the red glow of the sun,
just the two of us playing at the foot of the
mountain when the clouds beckon

*

I shall return to heaven.
The day the picnic ends in this lovely world,
I shall go and say
it was lovely. . . .

 

poem in Korean

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Poor Maiden by Heo-nan-seol-heon (1563-1589)

(translated from the Korean by geul)

 

Wielding metal scissors
Ten fingers numbing in the night cold
Making wedding clothes for another
They say she lives alone
as one year turns into the next

 

poem in Korean


 

In winter
trees lose all inhibition
their arms reach up
in shamanistic contortions
sweeping the air weeping the air
beseeching to the right and the left
up and down
all is bare
why
oh why
why
cross
and silent reproach


Early on I by Choi Seung-ja

(translated from the Korean by geul)

 

Early on I was nothing
Mold on dry bread
Stinking stain on a wall pissed on, again and again
a thousand year corpse covered in maggots still.

*

No parent raised me
Falling asleep in rat holes, leeching off the poor
dying ceaselessly in any old place
early on I was nothing.

*

When we brush past momentarily
like shooting stars, therefore,
don’t say you know me.
Idon’tknowyou Idon’tknowyou,
youanddearanddarling, happiness
you, dear, darling, love

*

That I am alive,
that’s no more than an eternal rumor.

 

poem in Korean


Love in This Age by Choi Seung-ja

(translated from the Korean by geul)

 

Though you call, in March, no one’s home
at the foot of Dongdaemun* blades of grass are soaked in secrecy.

*

Always along the same path we
fall into the house familiarly
down into the sleep out of this world and
though you all call from the deep marsh of dreaming
my love, because the light of the four thousand year sky is heavy
(in this scape of petals falling on flowing water
irresistibly drawn one to the other)
we are clouds with fettered feet.

*

When the masked wind
calls us out because it’s night
this hour’s ardent code
this epoch’s terrifying love where
death follows death
we cannot decipher.

 

poem in Korean

 

* Dongdaemun – “Great East Gate”


Roadrunner

rr2

 

I saw you first swallowing a bird
out the study window with your beak pointing skyward
throat taut
My mouth opened likewise in dismay

*

Another time you had what looked like a ruddy berry
in your beak
Later it occurred to me that it was a tiny shrunken tomato
probably rotten from thawing and freezing on the vine
all winter long

*

Ah – you have it tough I thought
my earlier disgust all forgotten


Letter (편지) by Yi Seong-bok (이성복)

(translated from the Korean by geul)

 

1

I write a letter to that woman I write every day the mailman doesn’t pick it up my younger brother looks at it and crumples it up neighbors accidentally step on it still I write a letter every day walking past I see it stuck on somebody’s wall it’s stuck between the branches of a willow tree children fold it into an airplane and fly it still I write a letter every day the mailman doesn’t pick it up sometimes he picks it up I read it out loud after a drink “I miss you” . . . . Damn, today I’m writing a letter for sure

*
*

2

Hello
I’m going to throw out my memory today
I have to meet you today do you know why? it’s because I believe I can do something I’m going to be a teacher I believe it, actually, I have nothing to teach if I teach the world will be deceived by me I’m embarrassed and I’m not in good health I can’t get married I believe I will get married

*

Bye
I have to meet you
today
I have no way to send this letter to you

*

Don’t be doing well
I miss . . .

 

poem in Korean


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


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