10 poems from

A Black Kite

Selected poems of Kim Jong-Gil

Translated by Brother Anthony of Taizé and Kim Jong-Gil




I cross the rapids,


following the uphill road

on the first day of school


having spent the summer

without even once having

the water in the rapids touch me,


leaving the street,

hot as a sandbank,


as I cross September air currents the hue of balloon flowers


shoals of silvery minnows

sparkling like shoals of silvery minnows


the songs of morning insects in the grass . . .







Beside a glowing charcoal fire

in a dark room, all alone,


my elderly grandmother

was keeping watch over a pitifully fading young life.


At last Father returned home through the snow

bringing medicine;


Ah, those red cornelian cherries

Father had picked after plowing through the snow . . .


I was a baby animal,

my fever-flushed cheeks being silently rubbed

with the cool hem of young Father’s coat.


From time to time snow beat at the back door.

I have a feeling that that evening was Christmas Eve.


And suddenly I have reached the age

my father was then.


That being something irrecoverable from long ago, in a town

with Christmas drawing near

those welcome memories from the past come dropping down.


If I suddenly feel Father’s cool coat hem

on my sorrowful thirty-year-old brow


is that because the red cornelian cherries picked in the snow

are still flowing, melted, in my blood?





On New Year’s Morning


The sun comes and goes

in the constant cold,


but the new year has somehow to be greeted warmly.


Below the ice, fish are still breathing

and green water parsley buds

are dreaming of spring days.


The new year has to be greeted with endurance

and with a little dreaming.


I spent yhis morning

before a glass of warm liquor

and a bowl of soup,


so I should think that is plenty

and feel grateful.


The world

is rough and cruel

but still it’s worth living in;


we should think about being better and wiser

since today we are one year older.


Though one year goes

in the bitter cold

and another comes,


just as we see pretty teeth emerging

through the gums of babies,


so we should welcome the new year.





Spring Mud


The womens’ university had cream-colored buildings.


The mud stuck to the soles of shoes did not fall off readily.


The end of the suitably gasping hill path


was a greenish barley field . . . .


There was a sound of a white tennis ball bouncing somewhere.


It was too early for cuckoos to be singing


but up on the hill


newly entering students were chattering like skylarks.





Middle Age


The seasons are always guests ushered in by rain . . . .

it may be a ruddy-cheeked boy, a sunburned youth,

someone middle-aged mined by melancholy,

or a grizzle-browed old man,

but it is always the same guest, not a different one,


Beyond the bead curtain of raindrops hanging from the eaves

how many time have I welcomed that guest?

This middle-aged traveler mined by melancholy—

what ushered him in previously,

as a ruddy-cheeked boy, a sunburned youth

lingering beneath some house’s eaves?


If chill autumn rain drizzles down hastily,

one day white snow flurries will sprinkle the brow!

Now, just like that ruddy-cheeked boy lingering

beyond the bead-curtain of rain-drops,

will this traveler never again flush with childlike cheeks

and linger one day outside some window?





Lonely Height


For Mount Pukhan

to recover its full height,

we have to wait till winter comes.


We have to wait

till a winter morning dawns after a night of snow

when only such high peaks as Paegundae or Insubong stand

covered with light snow as if with thin makeup,


while the rest of the mountain remains the colour

of cold Indian ink.


For Mount Pukhan to recover

its lonely height which does not reveal itself

in the fresh green or the turning of leaves,

or in the fog rising along the valleys,


not even when deep snow covers the whole mountain,

but is diminished even at the touch of a rosy sunbeam,


we have to wait till a winter morning dawns

when only Paegundae and Insubong stand

covered with light snow.





Near a Mountaintop


Mist is flowing irregularly

over the afternoon’s Ant-Back Ridge.


If we choose a patch of grass and sit down,

it is bound to hold prickly thistles; in the mist a few cows

are looking at us with docile faces like the Holy Family.


In Jeju City oleaders were blooming heatedly

near the mountaintop a late autumn wind is rising.


Burying the setting sun on the stone walls of toothbrush-like Crown Peak,

darkness buries Yongjingak Valley.


On Mount Halla in July

the streams and the chirping of insects are merely chill.


Baekrok Lake where it seems a lost calf fell in and drowned

the morning of fearfully blue waves,

walking on round the crater, as we turn toward Seoguipo,

a suddenly rushing sea breeze

comes twisting white round the gaunt stone pillars of the south face.

Not mist, now, but clouds.


Blooming in those clouds, beds of mountain flowers,

and over them a flock of yellow butterflies is turning.







You were on the tall side, weren’t you?

Your posture was always bolt upright, wasn’t it?


I set about grading the end-of-term exam papers

after having seen your name and photo

in a newspaper article about a bus accident.


On the report card you would never see

I copied, writing clearly,

a grade just short of 90 points.


As I looked round the memorial exhibition prepared by your comrades

I realized how much you had also grown up in poetry.


“In an August garden” where you said “roses are lighting lamps”

you stand, tall and upright.


One woman among those graduating,

you said, “I often read my palm,”

and now you stand there alone as ever.





At Hahoi Village


The name means a stream flows round the village

and today still that stream is flowing.


Has time too just gone on flowing away like the stream?

No. No, it’s piled on the mossy tiles of the old houses

and today after the summer rain is drying in the hot sunlight.


And it is growing in the shiny leaves of a mulberry tree

on the site of a demolished house,

reviving in the coughing of the elderly grandson at Yangjindang.


In the green quinces on the few trees

in the back garden of Chunghyodang, the former home of Master Seoae,


and on the site where an exhibition hall is being built

at the expense of the Office of Cultural Properties,

it is being reconstituted.





Autumn Chill


Today in this inland city,

famed for its heat,

under the influence of a typhoon

cool breezes have been blowing all day.

It has been a week since I heard of a friend’s death

and as I walk along this street again,

the chaos of Chuseok having passed,

that friend is walking with me.

I feel that occasionally his fearfully broad shoulders

strike against mine.

His lifetime, just forty-seven years,

was like this city’s sultry heat.

Still, what can be the reason why his life, which was not long,

but was particularly full of hardships and pain,

feels to those of us who were close to him

like today’s weather, with cool breezes blowing?

The main street of this city with its million and more inhabitants

today seems quite empty,

while we who are walking along are somehow feckless like the breeze.

Yet, as we talk about him,

we sometimes laugh.

He grew increasingly gaunt

then as the heat he had to endure at the end was decreasing

his life, too, ended.

This inland city which he has left for ever,

the familiar northern hills veiled in clouds . . . .

this year the autumn chill seems to have arrived particularly early.