“Final Love Scene” by Hwang Myeong-Seung


Hwang Myeong-Seung (image source)

In the hallway, there had hung a lone light bulb.
We removed it and replanned the composition.

In the pitch-blackness our lovers’ internal acting would have to unravel.
They’d have to put in all their strength just as if there were tacks beneath their feet……

We needed more time, but the actors’ time
came to an end and we couldn’t guide in the direction we’d hoped for.
We had missed a cruel face, couldn’t tell night from day, wound from scar,
tear from snot, so it ended up ridiculous.


In the hallway, we rehang the white bulb,
and in the light beneath, bored, apathetic faces.
No choice but to go back to the beginning.
Sweat trickles down the spine in the morning light.

What we needed was an artist who could truly skewer the heart……


복도에는 표정 없는 흰 전등이 매달려 있었다
우리는 그것을 치웠고 구도를 다시 짰다

연인들은 칠흑 같은 어둠 속에서 내면연기를 펼쳐야 했다
발밑에 떨어진 압정처럼 어떻게든 힘을 주어서……

시간이 필요하다고는 하지만
배우들은 끝내 우리가 원하는 옳은 방향을 찾아내지 못했다
잔인한 표정을 놓쳤고 밤과 낮 상처와 흉터
눈물과 콧물을 구분하지 못했으며
그것은 결국 어처구니없는 상황으로 이어지고 말았다

복도에는 흰 전등이 다시 매달렸고
불빛 아래 드러나는 한심한 표정의 얼굴들
우리는 다시 원점으로 되돌아갈 수밖에 없었다
등줄기를 타고 질 질 질 진땀이 흐르는 새벽

꼬챙이로 심장을 쑤시는 아티스트가 필요한데……


“Final Love Scene” (궁극의 애정신) originally appeared in Daum – 70 Representative Korean Poets.


“Microwave Rice” by Lee Byeong-Ryul

Lee Byeong-Ryul

Lee Byeong-Ryul (image source)

There was a time when I used to buy microwave rice.
A time when there was no nowhere to put it.
I placed it in pockets, bags,
and hugged it to my chest.
Still, it always grew cold.

Eating it in secret, it became too thin.
But when it made splendid clumps, what I ate became my strength.
There is something your hands reach out to in hunger:
And when there is nowhere else to put it, you fill a bag up with it.
Though it’s filled with love, it’s like carrying your worries.

If you press down on it, it bursts open.
If you don’t empty it, it’s an unfortunate situation
come to have a new taste.
The palm that squeezes the
upside down bag for the grains at the bottom,
is as blank and expressionless as those fingers which strip away love
without knowing where it goes.
Whether the bag’s volume should be further emptied or filled,
this hungering demand for love will fill it till the very end
even through heavy snowfall.
When the wind snatches away the bag,
you could say love has been taken with it.
Who is that wind
who carried off the bag
as if it were filled with rice?


봉지밥을 싸던 시절이 있었지요
담을 데가 없던 시절이지요
주머니에도 가방에도 넣고
가슴팍에도 품었지만
어떻게든 식는 밥이었지요

남몰래 먹느라 까실했으나
잘 뭉쳐 당당히 먹으면 힘도 되는 밥이었지요
고파서 손이 가는 것이 있지요
담을 데가 없어 봉지에 담지요
담아도 종일 불안을 들고 다니는 것 같지요
눌리면 터지고
비우지 않으면 시금시금 변해버리는
이래저래 안쓰러운 형편이지요
밥풀을 떼어먹느라 뒤집은 봉지
그 안쪽을 받치고 있는 손바닥은
사랑을 다 발라낸 뼈처럼
도무지 알 길 없다는 표정이지요
더 비우거나 채워야 할 부피룰
폭설이 닥치더라도 고프게 받으라는 이 요구를
마지막까지 봉지는 담고 있는지요
바람이 봉지를 채 간다고
사랑 하나 치웠다 할 수 있는지요
밥을 채운 듯 부풀어
봉지를 들고 가는
저 바람은 누군지요


“Microwave Rice” (봉지밥) originally appeared in  Daum – 70 Representative Korean Poets.

Poetry, Popular

“It’s OK, I’m a Pig” by Kim Hye-Soon

Kim Hye-Soon

Kim Hye-Soon (image source)

The Pig Speaks

Nailing the pig to the cross was so natural it was meaningless.

In the meditation room, I glare at the wall while deciding to meditate and sit in the Lotus Position.

You know what? I just gotta come out with it. Truth is, I’m a pig and I’ve been one since the day I was born.
I’m filthy. Filthy. Absolutely filthy, I’m telling you. And a soul? I don’t have one.

But I’m smart. Among mammals, my IQ is the highest. And while I like cleanliness,
but bathroom dreams are what I utterly detestable. Every time I dream of bathrooms, my IQ falls 30 points.

I want to clear out my nose, cough, and snort like someone waking up in dirty water,
but there’s no tissue in this Zen meditation room. Is it that Buddhist monks just never get runny noses?

You know, haven’t you heard that pigs get depressed, too? That pigs also have facial expressions?
A soft and squishy sadness that puts weight on bodies, filthy water, slippery mud.

In Kunsthalle at Notre Dame, I saw photos taken by Jan Banning of people once colonized by Japan.
There were photos of old Sumatran women and in their faces were two expressions.

If not worry, then sadness. So as I walked, I gave names to all the wrinkles’ faces.
“You are worry. You are sadness. Sadness. Next, worry. Worry. Sadness. Sadness.”

My insides, sadness and worry, are a contents made by a lifetime of what I shoveled into my squealing mouth.
Sadness and worry, whose voices called out between the barley fields, “A pig’s coming!”

Who called out to my sad surprise, “…and pigs are filthy, so let’s drag the pig out of our hearts. Let’s cleanse our pig selves.”
The monk with bamboo stick in hand intending to lash this pig who dozed mid meditation passes over me.

Nailing the pig to the cross was so natural it was meaningless.
What pig would want to believe that after dying a pig would be resurrected as a pig?
But anyway, having come here now just seems so pointless. I’m not cut out for a temple stay.

And you know what? I’ll just confess it to them a little later: “I’m a pig. I’ve always been a pig.”


Perishing Pig

I’m a pig, I’m a pig who’s never even come close to seeing the outside, I’m thoroughly a pig, I’m a depressed pig, I’m a pig crying wolf, I’m the world’s most frightened pig plucked to be king, I’m a pig grasping at my pillow and proclaiming “O majestic gutter!”, I’m a pig smiling alone and thinking how wonderful it’d be if someone grabbed hold of my mother who gave birth to a pig that was bound to die, I’m a pig with blistered lips thinking all the world is rice porridge, I’m a 4XL pig, I’m a pig that fills up the entire bed, my name is ‘never pig’, I’m a pig that trembles at just hearing “Cross the sea”, I’m a yes-pig that has never raised his head, I’m a pig that dies from fear at even the thought of lifting my head in awe at the vast night sky, I’m a dying pig that thinks a dying pig is still a pig.

Pig whose arms and legs have grown longer, pig hiding his tail between his legs to extinguish the pig, pig who’s fastened together emptiness and wonders why it’s so heavy, pig whose armpits smell like warm clouds when his hands are placed in them, unnaturally smooth pig, snug and shallow pig, ride and play on my back for life, pig cozy even when mice gnaw at his piglets, pig with something worn over pupils, pig unsure of why he’s a pig, the photographs know and so does the mirror, yet he’s the only one who unknowing, pig who’s never seen past the window, pig with teeth pulled out, pig of lamentation, pig of regret, pig with teeth plucked, tail cut, and a lonely tongue left alone in his mouth, a pig who only squeals“pig, pig” when his lips are spread, pig meat.

q q q q the sound of a pig calling out along with the crow atop its head.
q q q q master gone to jail and an animal’s cries—an expected shrieking—filling up its legs.
q q q q the sound a of a pig inwardly screaming that he’s not a pig.
q q q q the words of a pig which screamed that he was a pig when his mother was dragged off.

q q q q the seductive squeals our nation’s sows which know less well than I do that I am a pig.




Bloom, Pig!

Though I didn’t steal, I have to die.
Though I didn’t kill, I have to die.
No trial.
No flogging.
Just a shallow hole dug and an order to enter in.

A black Poclain excavator draws closer and
before anyone could even shout, “Kill! Kill!”,
before blood could splatter on the smeared wall in the light of a bare light bulb,
before hide could be ripped from stomach to make a pair of cheap, speckled shoes,
before a pale-faced examining official in black glasses could shout “Confess! Confess!”,
before the unbearable torture of distance and its impending horror could be jump-roped over,
before I can bite my tongue
like when the crack of a palm sounds out as it bites into the cheek of a friend in the next room,
before I can say, “Mommy, I’m sorry. I was wrong. I won’t do it again”,
before a towel can be pressed to one’s face and a kettle could boil,
without so much as a rope or handcuffs.

Every night I read of our nation’s history of torture
until each new morning when I open my door, look out at the roofs beneath the mountains, and touch them with my song.
Even in my dreams I can’t forget this miserable place.
There is a pig I must wash out of me through song.
O, my song, today the pig was only stuck to my body for 12 hours.
Like a steady young man, the sturdy herd of pigs threw themselves into the shallow hole.

From my grave, I weep.
I weep standing not on four legs but two.
I weep wearing ashes on my head.
It’s not that I can’t bear the pain!
It’s the shame…
In the grave my belly bloats with broth and gas.
In the grave my stomach bursts.
In the grave I boil like a putrid stew.
while blood overflows the shallow hole.
On rainy nights, the revolting pigs sparkle like will-o’-the-wisps.
The ruptured guts bore through the burial mound and blaze up at its surface.
Resurrection! The guts still live! Live on as a snake!

Bloom, pig!
Fly, pig!

A wild boar comes and grazes on the entrails.
A flock of eagles comes and eats the organs.

Tonight my intestines fly off into the blue skies!
The decapitated pig is flashes of lightning!
A fearful night where, though he dies and dies again, the pig will not be cast aside!
A night filled with the weeping of a pig.
I am a pig! A pig! A night of mourning!

Tonight, on the pig tree clusters of pigs are in bloom.




Setting Out from the Buddhist Temple Gates

They said to go without the body, but I bring him with me.
They said to go abandoning the pig, but I bring him with me.

I left in my dreams.
They say, “Enough, just become a bird already.”
From inside me a bird sings out,

“Enough. Goodbye. I can live without you, too.”

The pig follows behind me.

I’m that woman right there.
I’m that ugly, filthy woman.
I’m that woman with forgetfulness in her stomach.
I’m that woman with nothing but vomit filling her head.
I’m that young woman spitting as she passes.
I’m that woman standing on the corner who has just run off.
I’m a house of cramped writing beneath an imposing man’s boots,
and when that’s too confining, when I don’t know how to be anything else,
I’m a filthy face, a dirty ass, bloodstained toenails.
I’m a woman acquainted with spirits hearing the sound of the hearse come to carry me.
I eat because I’m afraid. I scream and because I’m afraid, I eat again. I’m that woman.
I’m a rice bowl stuck to lips. I’m that woman eating what’s spat and shit out.
That disgusting woman, that foul-smelling woman, that crazy bitch hitting a bitch.
If I laid down on a plate, would you slather me in sauce and roast me?
Ugly woman, woman who takes daily antibiotics,
you said you could love me, feel compassion towards me even…
but I’m a pig…

Still, if I could add just one more thing, I’m a fun pig.
I’m a secret in the form of a pig. Something probably so funny
I might as well be a full bladder bouncing about on a playground full of kids.

From a little ways back, the pig sets out from the Buddhist temple’s gates to follow me.
Since he has just left his 36.5C room, he must be cold, right? So, as he follows, he carries a foul-smelling coat.

Rejoice, the pig has come!
Let all the earth receive him!



돼지는 말한다

아무래도 돼지를 십자가에 못 박는 건 너무 자연스러워, 의미 없어

나는 선방에 와서 가부좌하고 명상을 하겠다고 벽을 째려본다

있지, 지금 고백하는 건데 사실 나 돼지거든. 있지, 나 태어날 때부터 돼지였어
더러워 나 더러워 진짜 더럽다니까. 영혼? 나 그런 거 없다니까

그러나 머리는 좋지 아이큐는 포유류 중 제일 높지 청결을 좋아하지
난 화장실 넘치는 꿈 제일 싫어해 그 꿈 꾸고 나면 아이큐가 30은 빠져

나는 더러운 물속에서 아침잠을 깬 사람처럼 쿨적거린다
코를 풀고 싶지만 선방엔 휴지가 없다 스님들은 콧물 안 나오나?

있지, 너 돼지도 우울하다는 거 아니? 돼지도 표정이 있다는 거?
물컹거리는 슬픔으로 살찐 몸, 더러운 물, 미끌미끌한 진흙

내가 로테르담의 쿤스트할레에서 얀 배닝이라는 사진가가 일제 식민지 치하
수마트라 할머니들 찍은 사진을 봤거든 그런데 그 사진 속 표정은 딱 두 종류였어

불안 아니면 슬픔, 그래서 난 걸어가면서 그 주름 얼굴들에게 이름을 붙여줬지
당신은 불안, 당신은 슬픔, 슬픔 다음 불안, 불안, 슬픔, 슬픔.

나의 내용물, 슬픔과 불안, 일평생 꿀꿀거리며 퍼먹은 것으로 만든 것
슬픔과 불안, 그 보리밭 사잇길로 뉘 부르는 소리 있어 돼지 한 마리 지나가네

그런데 돼지더러 마음속 돼지를 끌어내고 돼지우리를 청소하라 하다니
명상하다가 조는 돼지를 때려주려고 죽봉을 든 스님이 지나간다

아무래도 돼지를 십자가에 못 박는 건 너무 자연스러워, 의미 없어
아무래도 돼지가 죽어서 돼지로 부활한다면 어느 돼지가 믿겠어?
아무래도 여긴 괜히 왔나 봐, 나한테 템플스테이는 정말 안 어울려
있지 조금 있다 고백할 건데 나 돼지거든 나 본래 돼지였거든


뒈지는 돼지

돼지다, 도무지 밖을 본 적 없는 돼지다, 내내 돼지다, 우울한 돼지다, 늑대가 온다 외치는 돼지다, 세상에서 가장 두려운 돼지를 왕으로 뽑은 돼지다, 오 멋진 시궁창! 외치며 베개를 껴안는 돼지다, 뒈질 돼질 낳아주신 엄마를 잡아가면 좋겠네 혼자 웃는 돼지다, 온 세상이 다 쌀죽이라고 생각하는 입술이 부르튼 돼지다, 4XL 돼지다, 침대에 꽉 찬 돼지다, 그 이름 도무지 돼지다, 바다 건너란 말만 들어도 벌벌 떠는 돼지다, 고개를 들어본 적 없는 예예 돼지다, 밤하늘 드넓은 궁창을 우러르기만 해도 무서워 뒈져버리는 돼지다, 뒈지는 돼지는 돼지라고 생각하는 뒈지는 돼지다

팔다리가 축 늘어진 돼지, 꼬리를 가랭이 사이에 감추고 쿨적거리는 돼지, 허공을 묶었는데 왜 이리 무거워 돼지, 겨드랑이에 손을 넣으면 뜨거운 구름냄새가 나 돼지, 부드러운 도대체 돼지, 아늑한 이윽고 돼지, 일평생 나를 타고 놀아 돼지, 쥐가 새끼를 갉아먹어도 아늑한 돼지, 눈동자에 무엇을 껴입었니 돼지, 왜 돼지가 돼지인 줄 모르나 돼지, 사진은 아는데 거울은 아는데 너만 모르는 돼지, 한번도 창문을 내다본 적 없는 돼지, 이빨 뽑힌 돼지, 탄식 돼지, 후회 돼지, 이빨 뽑히고 꼬리 잘린 다음 입 안에 혼자 남은 외로운 혀 돼지, 그러나 입만 벌리면 돼지 돼지 소리가 나는 돼지, 고기 돼지

q q q q 까마귀가 머리에 올라 앉을 때 돼지가 따라서 우는 소리
q q q q 주인은 감옥 가고 똥물이 무릎 위까지 차올라올 때 돼지가 지르는, 당연히 비명
q q q q 돼지가 돼지가 아니라고 할 때 속으로 외치는 말
q q q q 엄마를 데려갈 때 뒤돌아보는 건 돼지라고 말하는 돼지가 하는 말

q q q q 무엇보다 제가 돼지인 줄 모르는 우리나라 돼지들의 교성




피어라 돼지

훔치지도 않았는데 죽어야 한다
죽이지도 않았는데 죽어야 한다
재판도 없이
매질도 없이
구덩이로 파묻혀 들어가야 한다

검은 포클레인이 들이닥치고
죽여! 죽여! 할 새도 없이
알전구에 똥칠한 벽에 피 튀길 새도 없이
배 속에서 나오자마자 가죽이 벗겨져 알록달록 싸구려 구두가 될 새도 없이
새파란 얼굴에 검은 안경을 쓴 취조관이 불어! 불어! 할 새도 없이
이 고문에 버틸 수 없을 거라는 절박한 공포의 줄넘기를 할 새도 없이
옆방에서 들려오는 친구의 뺨에 내리치는 손바닥을 깨무는 듯
내 입안의 살을 물어뜯을 새도 없이
엄마 용서하세요 잘못했어요 다시는 안 그럴게요 할 새도 없이
얼굴에 수건을 놓고 주전자 물을 부을 새도 없이
포승줄도 수갑도 없이

나는 밤마다 우리나라 고문의 역사를 읽다가
아침이면 창문을 열고 저 산 아래 지붕들에 대고 큰 소리로 노래를 부른다
이곳이 차마 꿈엔들 잊힐 리야
나에겐 노래로 씻고 가야 할 돼지가 있다
노래여 오늘 하루 12시간만 이 몸에 붙어 있어다오
시퍼런 장정처럼 튼튼한 돼지 떼가 구덩이 속으로 던져진다

무덤 속에서 운다
네 발도 아니고 두 발로 서서 운다
머리에 흙을 쓰고 운다
내가 못 견디는 건 아픈 게 아니에요!
부끄러운 거예요!
무덤 속에서 복부에 육수 찬다 가스도 찬다
무덤 속에서 배가 터진다
무덤 속에서 추한 찌개처럼 끓는다
핏물이 무덤 밖으로 흐른다
비 오는 밤 비린 돼지 도깨비불이 번쩍번쩍한다
터진 창자가 무덤을 뚫고 봉분 위로 솟구친다
부활이다! 창자는 살아 있다! 뱀처럼 살아 있다!

피어라 돼지!
날아라 돼지!

멧돼지가 와서 뜯어 먹는다
독수리 떼가 와서 뜯어 먹는다

파란 하늘에서 내장들이 흘러내리는 밤!
머리 잘린 돼지들이 번개 치는 밤!
죽어도 죽어도 돼지가 버려지지 않는 무서운 밤!
천지에 돼지울음소리 가득한 밤!
내가 돼지! 돼지! 울부짖는 밤!

돼지나무에 돼지들이 주렁주렁 열리는 밤




산문을 나서며

몸 버리고 가라는데 몸 데리고 간다
돼지 버리고 가라는데 돼지 데리고 간다

꿈속에서 나가
이제 그만 새나 되라는데
몸속에서 새가 운다

이제 그만 안녕 너 없이도 살 수 있어

돼지가 따라온다

내가 바로 저 여자야
못 생기고 더러운 저 여자
뱃속에 가득 망각이 들어간 저 여자
머릿속에 토사물만 가득 든 여자
지나가던 소녀가 침을 탁 뱉는 바로 저 여자
길거리 모퉁이에 서 있으면 모두 달아나버리는 저 여자
무서운 아저씨들의 장화 밑에서 우글거리는
글의 집이 너무 좁아 피할 줄도 모르는
때 묻은 얼굴이야 더러운 엉덩이야 피 묻은 발톱이야
날 데리러 오는 장의차 소리는 귀신같이 아는 바로 저 여자야
무서워서 먹고 무서워서 소리치고 무서워서 또 먹는 바로 저 여자야
나는 입술에 붙은 밥통이야 뱉은 걸 먹고 싼 걸 먹는 바로 저 여자야
역겨운 여자 냄새나는 여자 미친 년 맞는 년
내가 접시에 누우면 맛있는 소스라도 발라서 구워줄래?
못생긴 여자야 하루에 한 움큼씩 항생제 먹는 여자야
네가 나를 사랑해주겠다고 동정해주겠다고 그러지만
나 돼지야

그런데 한마디 덧붙이자면 나 재미있는 돼지야
나는 이렇게 생긴 비밀이야 유머가 터질 듯해서
아이들이 운동장에서 차고 놀 수 있는 오줌보야

돼지 한 마리가 산문을 나서는 나를 멀찍이 따라다
36도 5부 방에서 나왔으니 춥겠지? 냄새나는 코트 들고 따라온다

기쁘다 돼지 오셨네
만백성 맞으라!



Kim Hye-Soon (1955—) was first published in 1975 in the quarterly Literature and Intelligence (문지과지성). Since then, she has written several books of poetry, the most recent collection being Bloom, Pig (피어라 돼지), which was published March 3, 2016 by Moonji (문지과지성사).

The book Bloom, Pig is divided into 4 sections, with the poem “It’s OK, I’m a Pig” (돼지라서 괜찮아) taking up the first section (45 pages). In total, the poem “It’s OK, I’m a Pig” is subdivided into 15 smaller sections, so the translation which appears above is just a brief portion of the full poem. The poem appeared in literary journals before being published in the 2016 collection. The poem was even translated into English in 2014 by Don Mee Choi as I’m OK, I’m Pig, and an excerpt of her translation can be read in the Lantern Review.

The poem draws part of its inspiration from the 2010-2011 South Korean outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease among livestock in Gyeongbuk Province and the government’s mandate to cull livestock through mass burials. The burials were used in conjunction with nationwide vaccinations to combat the disease, protect public health, and assuage fears about the safety of South Korean cattle exports. The majority of animals disposed of by this method during the outbreak were still alive at the time that they were buried.

The government’s decision caught the attention of outlets such as Time Magazine, CNN, The Huffington Post, The Daily Mail, The Guardian, and The Los Angeles Times, among others. According to a 2013 study of the outbreak published in the CDC’s Emerging and Infectious Diseases, approximately 3.48 million animals were killed between 2010-2011, and at its peak the disease had infected pigs and cattle in 75 cities in 11 provinces in South Korea.


“Lunar Eclipse” by Wi Seon-Hwan

Wi Seon-Hwan (위선화) 현대시

Wi Seon-Hwan (image source)

Extending a finger, my uncle raises it to one eye. Squeezing both eyes as he headed to the reservoir, he held a drenched full moon in his water-filled stomach.

The woman who had been following behind halted to spread out all her limbs and lie down. The moon had once been buried in her eyelashes like fresh frost, but from among the lashes she has bitten out its bent remains.

Even if Ga Op-Shin hadn’t existed for his ancestors, would he still have eaten the moon? Unable to answer questions about the darkness of a lineage’s thread or its drowned history,

my own turn has come. For a few days I wander about the reservoir. Since my eyes are dim and the waters are dark, I find no way to enter in.

Nameless, I put on weight until even to the corners of my eyes began to show it. The weight I gained hid me, while the excess hides the moon. I enter into darkness.


손가락을 세워서, 삼촌은 눈을 찔렀다. 두 눈을 움켜쥐고 저수지로 걸어 들어간
물이 찬 뱃속에는 물에 젖은 보름달이 들어 있었다.

뒤따라 걸어 들어간 여자는 사지를 벌리고 누워버렸다. 건져 올린 여자의 속눈썹엔 서리 내린 듯 달빛이 묻어 있었지만
정작은, 거의 베어 먹어서
눈썹같이 휘인 잔영만 남은 달이
여자의 잇바디에 물려 있었다.

옛적에 가옵신 선인들께옵서도 달님을 젓수시었겠지요? 家系(가계)의 암흑과 빠져 죽는 내력에 대하여는 대답 못한다.

내 차례가 왔다. 며칠째 저수지를 배회했지만, 나는 눈이 어둡고 물은 깜깜해서
걸어 들어갈 길이 보이지 않는다.

無明(무명)이 나를 살찌웠다. 사실 나는 눈초리까지 살이 쪘다. 나의 찐 살은 나를 가리었고, 지금은 훨씬 찐 살이
달을 가리고 있다. 나는 암흑 속으로 걸어 들어간다


Wi Seon-Hwan (1941—) was first published in the September issue of the literary journal Contemporary Poetry (현대시) and one of his debut works was the poem “On the Outskirts” (교외에서). His published collections of poetry include The Trees Crossed the River (나무들이 강을 건너갔다),  Falling out of  Snow-covered Skies (눈 덮인 하늘에서 넘어지다), Pointing Towards the Horizon (수평을 가리키다).

“Lunar Eclipse” (월식) alludes both to “Cuckoo” by Seo Jeong-Joo  and a traditional folktale  in the Chronicles of Huayang (화양국지/華陽國志) about one of the kings of the State of Shu during China’s Three Kingdoms period.

According to the folktale, king Duyu (두유/杜宇), also known as Mang-Jae (망제), noticed a corpse floating in the river at the foot of the Wenshan mountains as he passed by one day.

When the king came closer, the corpse sat up and opened its eyes. Astonished, king Duyu asked who the man who he was, to which the man replied, “My name is Bieling (별령/鱉靈) and I come from Jingzhou (형주/形州). I was at the river when I slipped and got swept away despite all my struggling. I honestly don’t know how I managed to make it all the way here.” (Note: modern-day Jingzhou is about an 18-hour car ride away from the Wenshan mountains.)

Hearing Bieling’s story, king Duyu became convinced that the heavens had sent Bieling to paint his royal portrait. He gave Bieling a home and a government post as the minister of the state, but Bieling was treacherous and deceitful. He worked to gain the admiration of all the king’s servants until he had the political power to sway outcomes in his favor.

When the time was right, Bieling took his daughter, a woman more beautiful than any other in the kingdom, and offered her in marriage to the king. The king was overjoyed  and left all national matters in the hands of his father-in-law Bieling, and the king spent day and night with his new wife.

With king Duyu preoccupied, Bieling held secret meetings, and a group soon formed to expel Duyu from the kingdom and make Bieling king in his place. On one fateful morning, Duyu was confronted by his conspirators and forced into exile.

In his grief, he wept all day until he lost what little remained of his strength. With no more power left in him, he soon died, and his heavy heart was transformed into a cuckoo crying out each morning, “It would be better to return; I cannot return (不如歸)”, from which the lesser cuckoo gets its name.

“Lunar Eclipse” (월식) originally appeared in Daum – 70 Representative Korean Poets.


“Cuckoo” by Seo Jeong-Ju

Seo Jeong-Joo (서정주)

Seo Jeong-Joo (image source)

Dappled with tears was the path my love tread.
30,000 ri to the lands west of China,
he played his flute as he left for where an azalea rain falls.
Ga Op-Shin, adjusting and readjusting your white collar,
you’ve gone to Pa-Chok—a place from where you won’t return.

I could’ve made for you a pair of straw shoes,
the individual strands of our sad tale woven into them.
I could’ve used the sharp blade of a knife inlaid with silver
to cut off my pointless hair and plait it into shoes for you.

Weary night sky in the light of a silk-screen lantern.
A bird’s voice soaked in the winding Milky Way.
Unable to bear it and drunk with my blood,
he lets rise a song of mourning.
My love, gone off alone to the heights of heaven.


눈물 아롱아롱
피리 불고 가신 님의 밟으신 길은
진달래 꽃비 오는 서역(西域) 삼만리(三萬里).
흰 옷깃 여며 여며 가옵신 님의
다시 오진 못하는 파촉(巴蜀) 삼만리(三萬里).

신이나 삼아줄 걸 슬픈 사연의
올올이 아로새긴 육날 메투리
은장도 푸른 날로 이냥 베혀서
부질없는 이 머리털 엮어 드릴걸.

초롱에 불빛, 지친 밤하늘
굽이굽이 은하물 목이 젖은 새,
차마 아니 솟는 가락 눈이 감겨서
제 피에 취한 새가 귀촉도 운다.
그대 하늘 끝 호올로 가신 님아


Seo Jeong-Ju (1915—2000) was born in Gongchang County in North Jeolla Province. He studied at Dongguk University and also served as an honorary professor. Owing to his body of work, he also received an honorary PhD from Sookmyung Women’s University during his lifetime.

His literary legacy is complicated by his work as a Japanese sympathizer during the Japanese occupation of the Korean Peninsula.

“Cuckoo” (귀촉도) was first published in 1934 in the literary journal “Spring and Autumn” (춘추), a journal founded by the Donga Ilbo journalist Yang Jae-Ha, (양재하) which was given to printing works related to Japanese culture and had a pro-Japanese slant. The poem would later appear in 1948 as part of a collection of poetry bearing the same name, Cuckoo (귀촉도).

His books of poetry have been translated into multiple languages, and much of the task of translating Seo Jeong-Ju’s poems into English has been done by Brother Anthony of Taizé. His website offers an alternate translation of this poem, which he titles “Nightingale”.


Translation notes:

  • The title of the poem is the name of a species of bird known as the lesser cuckoo. Brother Anthony’s use of nightingale in place of cuckoo relates to the fact that in East Asian literature the song of the cuckoo is closely attributed with loss and mourning. In translating East Asian literature, it seems to be a common replacement made to maintain the connotations of the original.
  • The lesser cuckoo and the common nightingale are separate species belonging to different orders. Geographically speaking, the nightingale isn’t found in Asia, and the lesser cuckoo isn’t found in North America or Europe.
  • A “ri” is Korean a unit of measurement equal to 0.4km.
  • Pa-Chok (파촉/巴蜀) is an old/former name for Sichuan.
  • The decorative knife referred to dates back to the Joseon dynasty. The silk-screen lantern dates back to the Joseon dynasty as well.
  • Analyses of the metaphors and themes of the poem (in Korean) are easy to find.

“At Dawn When Your Eyes Awake” by Shin Dal-Ja


Shin Dal-Ja (image source)

At dawn when your eyes awake,
birds that hugged the forest through the night take flight,
laying light against my forehead.
The wind and trees which watched over our dreaming
whisper—in my ears a clear bell.
I know the hour your eyes awake.
Dawn is coming for me,
so hurry, and even if we fall asleep
hasten to the center of my dreams.
Come and leave no distance.
Freeze the tears of dawn which cause eyes to open.
All of this before the sun grows warm.

When you fall asleep,
my skies lie down
among dreaming blades of grass.
And for the even breathing of the settling darkness
on the plain,
far off animals’ footsteps are muffled
because they know when you sleep.
Night comes to me where I am.
No matter where we each fall asleep,
you are at the end of my days,
lowering a wick,
unbolting the lock to my dreams before entering—
my sleep
is another beginning.
All of this, a work done after midnight.


네가 눈뜨는 새벽
숲은 밤새 품었던 새를 날려
내 이마에
빛을 물어다 놓는다
우리 꿈을 지키던
뜰에 나무들 바람과 속삭여
내 귀에 맑은 종소리 울리니
네가 눈뜨는 시각을 내가 안다
그리고 나에게 아침이 오지
어디서 우리가 잠들더라도
너는 내 꿈의 중심에
거리도 없이 다가와서
눈뜨는 새벽의 눈물겨움
다 어루만지니
모두 태양이 뜨기 전의 일이다

네가 잠들면
나의 천국은 꿈꾸는 풀로
푸른 초원에 내리는
어둠의 고른 숨결로
먼데 짐승도 고요히 발걸음 죽이니
네가 잠드는 시각을 내가 안다
그리고 나에게 밤이 오지
어디서 우리가 잠들더라도
너는 내 하루의 끝에 와
심지를 내리고
내 꿈의 빗장을 먼저 열고 들어서니
나의 잠은
또 하나의 시작
모두 자정이 넘는 그 시각의 일이다


Shin Dal-Ja (1943—) was born in Geochang County in South Gyeongsang Province. She completed her BA (1965), MA (1980), and PhD (1992) in Korean Language and Literature at Sookmyung Women’s University. She made her formal literary debut in Hyundae Munhak in 1974 with “Feet” (발) and “First Voice” (처음 목소리), which she submitted at the urging of the poet Park Mok-Wol (박목월).

Among other honors, she has received the Korean Award for Literature (1989), Silver Crown for the Order of Cultural Merit (2012), and the Prize of the Association of Korean Poets (2004).

Poetry, Popular

“Bird” by Shin Dal-Ja


Shin Dal-Ja (image source)

For you,
I was a bird.

Unable to speak,
only cry.
A pitiful bird
with no one to understand.

And each day,
to make my wings ache
I flew to all the places
you traveled.

And at night,
I was the bird
sadly singing
outside your room.


나는 당신에게
한마리 새였었다

말은 못하고
울기만 하는
아무도 몰라주는
구슬픈 새였었다

날이 날마다
날개가 아프도록
당신 가는 곳만

당신 방에 불이 꺼지면
울어대는 한마리 새였었다.