“Mother, Sister” by Kim So-Wol

Mother, sister, let’s live by the riverside.
Golden sand sparkling among the garden grass.
The song of reeds beyond the back door.
Mother, sister, let’s live by the riverside.


엄마야 누나야 강변 살자.
뜰에는 반깍이는 금모래 빛.
뒷문 밖에는 갈잎의 노래.
엄마야 누나야 강변 살자.

  • Chae

    “갈잎” does not mean Autumn leaves which is “가을잎”. It is a type of reed that grows by the river that when their leaves rub together in the wind, it creates a whistling sound.

    • Thanks for noting this! I was aware that 갈잎 was not a shortened form of 갈을 잎. My reasoning for rendering 갈잎 as ‘autumn leaves’ was based on a review of Naver’s 국어사전 and what I initially saw as the needs of the poem.

      Here was my reasoning. Naver’s 국어사전 provided two definitions for one entry of 갈잎: (1) ‘가랑잎 (활엽수의 마른 잎)’의 준말; (2) [같은 말] 떡갈잎 (떡갈나무의 잎). (At the time of translation, I hadn’t noticed that there was another entry for 갈잎 whose definition read [같은 말] 갈댓잎 (갈대의 잎) like you stated.)

      My translation was based off of the first entry alone. The first definition for that entry simply refers to ‘fallen/dry/dead leaves’ (from a broad-leafed tree). While 가랑잎 in the first definition may refer either to oak leaves or dry/fallen leaves, oak leaves isn’t provided as the primary definition for the word.

      It’s only the second definition that Naver provides for the first entry for 갈잎 which unambiguously refers to ‘oak tree leaves’; however, it also makes no mention of whether the oak leaves are fallen/dry.

      Since the poet mentions the changing colors of the leaves in a previous line and also mentions the sound of the wind rustling leaves, I went with ‘autumn leaves’. Using ‘autumn leaves’ here rather than ‘oak leaves’ doesn’t unnecessarily narrow the type of leaf referred to by the poet. Also, it conveys the idea that the leaves have changed for the season (which isn’t given by the word ‘oak tree’ alone).

      Last, it leaves a bit of ambiguity that mirrors what I believe appeared in the Korean text. That is to say, the Korean text doesn’t unambiguously state (1) whether the leaves are fallen or still on the tree as the wind rushes through them and (2) whether the leaves are specifically from an oak tree or from any of a number of broad-leafed trees. So, ‘autumn leaves’ avoids making either of those distinctions for the reader.

      Now of course, this translation didn’t mention the fact that the leaves could be from an oak, but all translations need to make accommodations somewhere. In this case, though, ‘reeds’ does seem to be a better translation.

      Couldn’t there be slight ambiguity about the reading of 갈잎 between leaves of a tree and growths/leaves on a reed? In any case, thanks again for the correction!