Nine poems by 3 Korean poets, all published in 2006
1. 이병률 Yi Byeong-Ryul
Translator: Brother Anthony of Taizé
A Sealed Map
In times when the earth and the moon were much closer together than now
and the moon looked bigger
in times when one year lasted eight hundred days and one day was eleven
you went dragging the animals you’d caught in your snares,
there was a day when snow fell intent on obliterating the path you had
and all things under heaven froze.
As the ice melted again, the world briefly grew sad,
then that nameless night froze again, just like the river,
and once the people on the far side of that frozen night, seeming
anxious, gathering by the riverside, lit fires,
the people on this side of the night lit fires too, anxious for those
on the other side.
Taking thought for one another that dark night
you finally cut off a finger.
In times when the earth and the moon were much closer and the moon
in times when one year lasted five hundred days and one day was sixteen
you came to take me away.
Seeming disinclined to reveal the promise you made to God, you said:
no one survives such seasons now,
so let’s return to wrinkled faces aged 120, 90, 82 years old.
However, the promise I have to keep
means advancing toward that dark, silent vanishing point.
Until the earth and the moon have moved far apart and the moon looks
Until one year lasts three hundred and sixty five days and one day is
twenty-four hours long.
History of Love
A road curves to the left; the wall beside it is deeply scored with
A couple of places, gashed deeply many times, are really dark.
They’re signs of insignificant efforts, striking weakly then returning
with hearts vexed.
I lived behind that wall.
I lived believing it would be brief and I lived believing it would last
When I finally realized that I can do nothing about things happening
behind my back, pinched then hardening, then pinched again before
My mind’s bone cracked and even the ceiling was tattered but suddenly
my heart went racing as at first and abruptly the nape of my neck gave
off a summer smell.
The Wind’s Private Life
Autumn is cold, water too is cold.
The moment my shadow, that had been wandering here and there in a
circular cruel room
slowly nibbling leaves, sighed
At that moment might the word man have arisen?
That remote long-ago today
At the place where that word man went soaring aloft
might a sorrowful blunt icicle been attached?
It’s a breast kneaded with sorrow, like the wind, like a bow,
otherwise, surely, it could never be so out-of breath.
Saying it’s the sound of a far-away train won’t do,
and saying it’s the smell of rain will do even less.
I can grasp the inner and outer aspects of the word woman
but the word man, that nothing seems capable of replacing,
is sorrowful and cold, so as I try to grasp my wife who struggles to
it seems hot blood will well from my hands.
At first sunlight appeared but then eyes’ light would also appear,
the breast would appear, feelings would appear.
The wind’s habit, turning one man into two,
ten men into twenty, a hundred, a thousand,
then commits them to the flames,
devouring that wind as I look back,
making the blood circulate in my tree and branches,
is what has made the millennia flow heedlessly past before you.
That wind has not yet, not yet ended splendidly.
2. 김사인 Kim Sa-In
Translator: Brother Anthony of Taizé
The Depth of a Landscape
In gusting wind
short-stemmed plants shudder and tremble
yet no one pays attention.
Because of the solitary trembling
of one moment in the life of those slender things,
one evening of the universe finally fades into night.
Between this side and the other side of that trembling, in the gap
between the start and end of that moment, a stillness of
infinitely ancient former times, or maybe an infant stillness
destined to belong to a time that has not yet come,
is shallowly buried, visible yet not visible,
while within the spring sunlight of that listless stillness
I wearily long to fall asleep for a century or two,
or three months and ten days at least.
Then beside my infinity, bearing the name of three months or ten days,
butterflies or bees, insects with nothing much to brag of,
may heedlessly go brushing past;
at that, as if in a dream,
I think I shall recognize a familiar smell borne on those tiny
creatures’ feelers or wings or infant legs
as your gaze that grew so deep in some other lifetime.
Sleeping on the Street
Removing your clothes like old newsprint
I lay you down raw on a damp mattress and look down on you.
Your gnarled hands and feet have lost their vigor
How weary the skinny limbs and ribs look.
Using you, I earned a living,
got a woman and set up house but
the only things left are stale sweat and a nightmare road.
Again I laid the pure thing you are
in a secluded corner of unfamiliar ground.
I’m not saying there were no good days, yet
the way to paying even a meager wage for your labors is far away.
Now I’m wondering if I would like to go away quietly,
simply leaving you sleeping here.
What about it, body?
An approaching butterfly—
what can that be on its back?
I don’t know; a scrap of declining midday’s lonely shadows
in one corner of an empty house’s yard?
Could it be the weeping of a child left alone
the rice and kimchi soup it’s eaten?
Could it be a weeping like layers of dirt emerging,
accumulating on jaw and front?
Bearing on its back a midday no one takes care of, a blinding solitude,
as it goes. How far
are you going, butterfly?
Before it, there were days
when I felt like silently kneeling down.
3. 장석남 Jang Seok-Nam
Translator: Brother Anthony of Taizé
I walk across a frozen pond.
Here is where the water-lilies were.
Under here was the black rock where the catfish would hide.
Occasionally a cracking sound as if it is splitting
as love grows deeper.
All the irises are bent over.
My shoulders, knees, feet, that all summer long I saw reflected,
sitting on this rock, have frozen like the irises.
They too show no sign of having watched the reflection of something
Although the fourteenth-day moon comes in its course, icily
all remain silent.
Suppose someone comes along,
loud steps treading on the pond,
and addresses me anxiously, saying:
“This is where I used to be.”
“This is where that star used to come.”
After examining the stump of the plum-tree outside the gate buried
there being as yet no sign,
back in my room after adjusting my icy shadow,
I unrolled and hung up on the eastward wall a painting of pink
by Master Ko-San.
Plum-blossom painting was a favorite pastime of people long ago, so
wash my face, at least, sit down and greet the old days?
On branches extending hesitantly to the left, five fully blooming
after bending it again, on the branches appearing on that part four
buds now spread,
uh uh, five,
so on which of them do I wish I was now?
The love in retrospect
and the void in anticipation are crystal clear.
After full consideration, going out with icy shoulders
I once again squat before the plum-tree stump.
As the sound of evening bells comes close at dusk,
darkness comes, rocks come,
and someone’s eyes come too,
come . . .
I Turn off the Light
When I turned off the light everything revived with open eyes; I was
I shut my eyes.
As I grew up, when I turned off the light
nothing could be seen; that’s good.
Smiles may rise,
tears may suddenly emerge,
And then, after that,
finally turning on the light again,
all at once I’m already thirty, forty or fifty.
When I turn off the light
everything seems just like a pond;
embracing in my arms the air as it slips away,
like wild rose petals falling
I feel my pulse.