Tag Archives: translations of Korean poetry

Nostalgia by Jeong Ji-yong

(translated from the Korean by geul)


At the eastern end of a wide plain
a creek chattering an old tale meanders out
a pied ox
bellows lazily in the gold waning light

Can I forget that place even in dreams?

When the ashes cool in the grate
the wind cries over vacant fields like horses racing
my aging father in a doze
props his head upon a straw pillow

Can I forget that place even in dreams?

My heart raised on the soil
yearning for the blue of the sky
I look for arrows shot recklessly
drenching myself in the dewy grass

Can I forget that place even in dreams?

Like night waters dancing upon the mythical sea
my elder sister’s flying black hair
my plain insouciant wife
barefoot through the seasons
harvesting rice with the blistering sun on their backs

Can I forget that place even in dreams?

The stars aswirl in the sky, transferring
my foot to unknowable sand castles
crows cawing circling past
a shabby roof
sitting around a hazy fire murmuring softly

Can I forget that place even in dreams?


poem in original Korean


Jealousy is my strength by Ki Hyeong-do

(translated from the Korean by geul)


After a long time has passed,
weakened, the book will let fall these pages
Since I erected so many factories* then
foolishly, I had that much more to record
Like a dog roaming here and there under a cloud
I loitered in mid-air, unflagging
owning nothing but sighs
In all the evening streets I left my youth standing staring blankly
Since I counted the days I’ve lived in wonderment
since no one was afraid of me
the substance of my hope was only jealousy
Therefore, first, I leave here a few scribblings
Though I’ve spent my life roving madly looking for love
not once have I loved myself



*The original poem says “factories” (in Korean, of course), but it might be more understandable if you substitute in the word “castles.”

poem in original Korean



College Days by Ki Hyeong-do

(translated from the Korean by geul)


under the wooden chair a pile of books thrown out

the white poplar woods were deep and lovely but

there, even the tree leaves were used as weapons

when they reached the woods, the young men,

as if they had steeled themselves in advance,

passed by with eyes closed; upon the stone steps

I read Plato, always then gunfire rang out

when the magnolia season arrived, friends scattered

****to prison or military service

a lower classman who wrote poetry confessed he was

****a government informant

there was a professor I respected but he was a man of few words

after a few winters passed I became a loner

and then it was graduation, I was afraid of leaving the university


poem in original Korean

Fog by Ki Hyeong-do

(translated from the Korean by geul)


Morning to evening the canal is wrapped in thick fog.


Anyone who comes to this town for the first time
has to pass through the great river of fog.
They must stand on the long dike like lonely cattle
until the people gone ahead are slowly erased.
Until suddenly they feel how they are confined alone in a hole in the fog and are ***appalled.

On some days the fog’s legion takes not a step from the canal
until the yellow and brittle sun hangs
above the thick air’s sheet of paper.
Late factory girls pass giggling on their way to work
Children seep out sluggishly
between the black and taciturn trees freed from the long darkness.
People unused to the fog, at first for a time,
won’t let down their guard while walking, but soon like everyone else
they bore through the fog this way and that. Habit is
really a convenient thing. Readily the fog becomes part of the family
and like mad they flow along
until the electric pole in the distance reveals its faint torso.

Often on days when there is no fog
all the faces walking along the dike are unfamiliar. Wary of each other
they pass by quickly; clear and melancholy mornings, however,
are rare. That’s because this place is the fog’s sacred ground.
When it grows dark the fog takes off its newly washed clothes layer by layer above the canal. In an instant the air
fills with a white and hard liquid. Plants and factories are sucked up inside and
a man a few steps ahead is cut in two by the fog.

There were also a few small incidents.
In the middle of the night a factory girl was raped.
Though her dormitory was close by, as soon as her mouth was covered
that was the end of it. Last winter
a drunk froze to death on the dike.
A man on a tricycle passing by said that he
thought it was a mound of trash. However, that
was just a personal misfortune, it wasn’t the fog’s fault.

When the fog dissipates near noon
the factory’s chimneys together aim their wet gun barrels
at the sky. Though a few wounded men
have left  this sewer, spewing fierce curses,
they were quickly pushed out of people’s memories.
For not one person has returned to the town.


Morning to evening the canal is wrapped in thick fog.
The fog is the local specialty.
Everyone owns a bit of stock in the fog.
The factory girls’ faces are white and lovely
The children grow up strong and all go to the factory.


poem in original Korean

The Silence of My Beloved by Han Yong-un

(translated from the Korean by geul)


He has left. Ah, my beloved has left.

Breaking through the blue light of the mountain towards color-soaked woods I took the lesser path thrusting wildly forward.

The sure and splendid promise, a golden flower, turned to cold dust and blew away in a breath of gentle wind.

The memory of our searing first kiss turned the hand of my fate, then backed away, vanishing.

I was deafened by the sound of his fragrant voice and blinded by his flower-like face.

Love is a human affair and so in meeting there is already within a parting, which I have not failed to reckon with, but separation comes unawares and the surprised heart bursts from the new sorrow.

Yet, I know that making separation a useless source of tears spoils the love, so I transfer the strength of the overflowing sorrow and pour it into the crown of a new hope.

Just as we worry about parting when we meet, when we part we believe that we will meet again.

Ah, my beloved has left but I did not send him away. The love song that cradles my melody enfolds my beloved’s silence and circles it.


poem in original Korean

About Han Yong-un