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To celebrate the 97th year since the 1919 March First Independence Movement uprisings in Korea against the Japanese Empire, we present translated poems by three colonial-era Korean writers.
 

 

Goldfish

by Kim Kirim
translated by Jack Saebyok Jung
 

The goldfish thinks the air beyond the fishbowl is an unscalable sky.
Suddenly, the goldfish is clothed in golden scales. Like a leaf of red flower
Her tail unfurls. Like finger rings her eyes protrude.
Now, not even the goldfish’s mother will be able to recognize her daughter.

Every morning, the goldfish covers herself in neat cold water, and thinks the rice flour
And the white hands are wings of an angel. There is a legend-like rumor
That the goldfish’s happiness is somewhere inside the fishbowl.

The goldfish never crashes her head into the glass wall.
Her gentle whiskers quickly sense that she is near the border, and elegantly
She turns away swaying her tail. Even in its mimicry of a blade, her fin
Has no business in cutting the jar open.

When she is moved to the desk in the morning, she steals a glance through the window
And sees the red sea obliquely melting the sunshine. She was taught that this sea
Was a dream. She thinks about how wide it is.

The goldfish wants to cross the glimmering street, and the air beyond the fishbowl, and cut
Through China Sea’s cold current swimming. All the bitter things, one by one, in a rush,
She wants to swallow. Clothed in blueblack scales in a forest of iodine-colored seaweeds,
She wants to be chased by a shark.

The goldfish, however, must close her tiny mouth on her dream that is larger than the sky,
And kill it. Like the settling of excrement, at the bottom of the fishbowl,
Only her age accumulates.
The goldfish keeps thinking of the sea, farther away than the unscalable sky,
As her home she must get back.
 

금붕어
 

금붕어는 어항 밖 대기(大氣)를 오를래야 오를 수 없는 하늘이라 생각한다.
금붕어는 어느새 금빛 비늘을 입었다 빨간 꽃이파리 같은
꼬랑지를 폈다. 눈이 가락지처럼 삐어져 나왔다.
인젠 금붕어의 엄마도 화장한 따님을 몰라 볼 게다.

금붕어는 아침마다 말숙한 찬물을 뒤집어쓴다 떡가루를
흰손을 천사의 날개라 생각한다. 금붕어의 행복은
어항 속에 있으리라는 전설(傳說)과 같은 소문도 있다.

금붕어는 유리벽에 부딪혀 머리를 부수는 일이 없다.
얌전한 수염은 어느새 국경(國境)임을 느끼고는 아담하게
꼬리를 젓고 돌아선다. 지느러미는 칼날의 흉내를 내서도
항아리를 끊는 일이 없다.

아침에 책상 위에 옮겨 놓으면 창문으로 비스듬히 햇볕을 녹이는
붉은 바다를 흘겨본다. 꿈이라 가르쳐진
그 바다는 넓기도 하다고 생각한다.

금붕어는 아롱진 거리를 지나 어항 밖 대기(大氣)를 건너서 지나해(支那海)의
한류(寒流)를 끊고 헤엄쳐 가고 싶다. 쓴 매개를 와락와락
삼키고 싶다. 옥도(沃度)빛 해초의 산림 속을 검푸른 비늘을 입고
상어에게 쫓겨다녀 보고도 싶다.

금붕어는 그러나 작은 입으로 하늘보다도 더 큰 꿈을 오므려
죽여버려야 한다. 배설물의 침전처럼 어항 밑에는
금붕어의 연령만 쌓여 간다.
금붕어는 오를래야 오를 수 없는 하늘보다도 더 먼 바다를
자꾸만 돌아가야만 할 고향이라 생각한다.
 

 

 

 

 

Sun’s Custom

by Kim Kirim
translated by Jack Saebyok Jung
 

Sun,
Just once is enough. I will borrow a red-crowned crane’s throat in order to call you. I will polish the dismantled ruin of my heart and build a small palace for you. You come live there. I will call you my mother my country my love my hope. And I will chase after your wild custom and bite this darkness and kill it.

Sun,
Lick the last night’s unclean frost that formed on the white dam and the green grass and the mountain and the lake of my heart’s small universe. Caress my creek and shake the cradle of my ocean. Come to my sickroom like a delightful guest who brings with her the morning of fishes.

Sun’s beauty my poem cannot surpass. Sun’s being my poem cannot be, so it turns to grief, so I use it to keep the light on inside my gloomy sickroom, and, Sun, I am waiting for you to come, staying up through this night.
 

 

 

 

태양아
다만 한번이라도 좋다. 너를 부르기 위하여 나는 두루미의 목통을 빌어오마. 나의 마음의 무너진 터를 닦고 나느 그 위에 너를 위한 작은 궁전을 세우련다. 그러면 너는 그 속에 와서 살아라. 나는 너를 나의 어머니 나의 고향 나의 사랑 나의 희망이라고 부르마. 그리고 너의 사나운 風俗을 쫓아서 이 어둠을 깨물어 죽이련다.

태양아
너는 나의 가슴속 작은 우주의 호수와 산과 푸른 잔디밭과 흰 防川에서 不潔한 간밤의 서리를 핥아버려라. 나의 시냇물을 쓰다듬어 주며 나의 바다의 요람을 흔들어 주어라. 너는 나의 병실을 어족들의 아침을 데리고 유쾌한 손님처럼 찾아오너라.

태양보다도 이쁘지 못한 시. 태양일 수가 없는 서러운 나의 시를 어두운 병실에 켜놓고 태양아 네가 오기를 나는 이 밤을 새어가며 기다린다.
 

 

 

 

 

The Sea and the Butterfly

by Kim Kirim
translated by Jack Saebyok Jung
 

No one told him about the water’s depth.
The white butterfly did not know how to fear the sea.

Thinking it to be a field of blue radish leaves, he floated down.
Young wings ended up pickled in the waves,
Then he returned, tired like a princess.

No flower blossomed on the sea of March’s moon. The grieving
Butterfly’s waist was cold with the pale crescent.
 

 

바다와 나비
 

아무도 그에게 수심(水深)을 일러 준 일이 없기에
흰 나비는 도모지 바다가 무섭지 않다.

청(靑)무우밭인가 해서 내려갔다가는
어린 날개가 물결에 절어서
공주(公主)처럼 지쳐서 돌아온다.

삼월(三月)달 바다가 꽃이 피지 않아서 서글픈
나비 허리에 새파란 초생달이 시리다.
 

 

 

 

 

For What Do You Search?

by Im Hwa
translated by David Krolikoski
 

The night seemed dead
A blanket laid quietly over ground and sky
And from the edge of the endless darkness above
Gloomy air wanders the earth
As rain glides down leaving neither trace nor sound
Erasing a pebble shaped tear
Upon a leaf in silent slumber
Down it tumbles
Like the mournful tear of the calling cuckoo
Wanderer of the dark night.
Spirit who roams alone in secret
Ceaselessly soaring through rain of night
For what do you search?
 

 

무엇 찾니 ?
 

죽은 듯한 밤은 땅과 하늘에
가만히 덮였고
음울한 대기는 갈수록 컴컴한
저 하늘 끝에서 땅 위를 헤매는데
소리없이 자취를 감추고 내리는 가는 비는
고요히 졸고 있는 나무 잎에
구슬 같은 눈물을 지워
어둔 밤에 헤매면서 우는
두견의 슬픈 눈물같이 굴러 떨어진다
남 모르게 홀로 뛰는 혼령아
이 어둔 비 오는 밤에도 쉬지 않고 날뛰며
무엇을 너는 찾느냐 ?
 

 

 

 

 

The Sky

by Im Hwa
translated by David Krolikoski
 

Like the twilight glow of the distant blue sky
Over the persimmon red countryside autumn
The sun of my prison is longer than the night.

By the high window
Outside the thick walls of the narrow cell
The sky is the sea, a child splashing about
It comes and goes, comes and goes.

Shall I pour upon your waves
All I have weighed and pondered
To soar wherever clouds may go!

The small village on the East Sea
Is my home where Mother resides
The red hills of Yeongdeungpo
Where the waters of the Han River murmur
The battlefield where I gave my life.

Even today smoke
Rises above the clouds
And somewhere a few young men
Look up to that all too slender sky
To fill the deep pupils of their wide hopeful eyes
Like water into a lake.

No matter how narrow the outstretched arm
Oh! My sea is more vast than the sky.
 

 

하늘
 

감이 붉은 시골 가을이
아득히 푸른 하늘에 놀 같은
미결사의 가을 해가 밤보다도 길다.
갔다가 오고, 왔다가 가고,
한간 좁은 방 벽은 두터워,
높은 들창 갓에
하늘은 어린애처럼 찰락어리는 바다.
나의 생각고 궁리하던 이것저것을,
다 너의 물결 위에 실어,
구름이 흐르는 곳으로 뛰어볼가!
동해바다 가에 작은 촌은,
어머니가 있는 내 고향이고,
한강 물이 숭얼대는
영등포 붉은 언덕은,
목숨을 바쳤던 나의 전장.
오늘도 연기는
구름보다 높고,
누구이고 청년이 몇,
너무나 좁은 하늘을
넓은 희망의 눈동자 속 깊이
호수처럼 담으리라.
벌리는 팔이 아무리 좁아도,
오오! 하늘보다 너른 나의 바다.
 

 

 

 

 

wind and spring

by Kim So-wŏl
translated by Ae Hee Lee

wind which blows in spring, wind blowing spring,
spring wind which sways the small branches,
wind which sways my heart, blowing spring,
so it is spring so it is wind inside this body of mine
so it is flower so it is drink, saying so, i weep.
 

 

바람과 봄
 

봄에 부는 바람, 바람 부는 봄,
작은 가지 흔들리는 부는 봄바람,
내 가슴 흔들리는 바람, 부는 봄,
봄이라 바람이라 이 내 몸에는
꽃이라 술잔(盞)이라 하며 우노라.

 

 

Kim Kirim, Im Hwa, and Kim So-wŏl

Kim Kirim (1908 - ?) was a leading Modernist poet and critic of Korean literature in the early 20th Century. He earned his living as a newspaper journalist, and composed poetry at night. He was also a founding member of kuinhoe, an eclectic gathering of writers and poets in Seoul. Near the end of Japanese Occupation of Korea, Kirim stopped writing and left Seoul. After the liberation he resumed his work, but during the Korean War he was kidnapped and forced to relocate to North Korea. No one knows what happened to him afterwards. There is no record of his death.

Jack Saebyok Jung graduated from Harvard College with B.A. in English, and received his M.A. in Korean literature at Seoul National University. He translates Korean poetry into English, and also the other way around. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Im Hwa (1908 - ­1953) is best remembered as an early, influential literary critic and theorist. He dabbled in many of the creative arts and was an active poet throughout his career. In addition, Im Hwa was a leading member of KAPF (Korea Artista Proleta Federatio), a coalition of leftist writers during the colonial period. In 1947, two years after Korea’s liberation from Japan, he crossed the 38th parallel to join the regime in the North, where he remained until he was purged in 1953.

David Krolikoski is a Ph.D. candidate in the East Asian Languages and Civilizations Department at the University of Chicago. He is currently writing a dissertation about Korean lyrical poetry.

Kim So-wŏl (1902 - 1934), born Kim Jŏng-sik, is a Korean poet from the colonial era. Also known as the “Folksong Poet,” Kim is remembered for writing poems that utilized the rhythm and tone of traditional Korean folk songs. He published a single collection of poems in his lifetime: Azaleas (1925). He died by suicide.

Ae Hee Lee is South Korean by birth but lived in Peru for 14 years and studied in the U.S. for six. She is currently an MFA candidate in the creative writing and poetry program of The University of Notre Dame. Her poetry has appeared in Cha, Cobalt, Spark: A Creative Anthology, Ruminate, Day One, Duende, and Alice in Wonderland Anthology.

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