10 poems from

Beating on Iron


Poems By Kim Soo-Bok


Translated by Brother Anthony of Taizé


Autumn Mountain  ·1



on my body too,


flowers blossom then fall,

clouds linger then pass on.


The places where once were green wounds

that burned brightly away


the sound of late evening streams

that once released pink ashes


at last seem to be heading seaward

after wandering far from their bodies.


Trees lighting fires

in each other’s breasts,

calm their breathing,

calm their heavy breathing.





Springtime Body-Flowers


Mother left after a visit.

In my heart

that cloudy spring day

a closed door opened

and on spring trees

body-flowers began to sprout.

An intense lilac fragrance

came strolling

into my melancholy body.


In Mother’s body

far away could be heard

a bell ringing at dawn

birds singing as they flew through groves

the sound of a stream’s ever lighter body

the sound of a blanket at dawn

as stars tossed then fell asleep

the sound as the first snap-weed petals

kissed the morning dew,


the sound of the footsteps of the first snow

falling at a mountain’s foot.


Mother was standing behind my back.

That evening with wisteria blooming

resounded with the smell of soy sauce being boiled,

the grassy smell of children’s bodies.

In the sunset glow, nothing but charcoal remained.


There was a bus belatedly winding round the curving hills,

a hill with a low cloud pressed down on its brow,

friendly roads surrendering their narrow bodies to one another,

trees that feel no sorrow even when the sun sets behind western hills,

an evening stream descending after washing itself.


Now flowers began to bloom

on my body.

Even in the cloudy spring day evening

the flowers did not wither.





Days of Pilgrimage


I fled

from Father.

Outside was wonderful,


snow falling,

and outside all the sleeping villages




A human being is heaven indeed.


The market-place with dust blowing,

the mountainside no carts returned from,

and as the smell of sesame leaves faded away

my heart looked up

at the collapsing sky

I walked till dawn.



rising again,

day-break wounds,

pain descending below my knees


A human person was not heaven at all.


I walked and walked.

Clouds went by overhead.

Rain fell.

People took shelter from the rain.

I stood there, caught in the rain.

While silver poplars stood in the rain all day long

rain likewise fell on birches’ sorrowing skins.


I fled even farther

from Father.

In order to efface the birches’ purity,

to efface the day-break wounds,

I hastened toward the sunset.





Far too Long an Autumn Road


One autumn, some forty years ago, there was one beautiful person who used to keep looking up at the sky, leaning against the young back of a plane tree. There was one autumn fellow who used to smear his face red with the greasy back of his hand as he leant against the door of an old bus wielding an oily rag. The road that went from Chungmu-dong to the hilltop terminus in Yeongseon-dong, embracing red leaves, was far too long, as long as next autumn’s arrival.





The Vanished Waterfall


On the slopes of the hill behind our village nestled a little lake. Every time the lake’s heart grew heated, it would send down the hill a little of its heart in a low voice.


We children, standing on the path leading up the hill, used to call those songs flowing down in a low voice “the little waterfall.We would set up a parasol below it and sing as we bathed our feet.


One summer, a few writers spread out a straw mat below that “waterfall” and drank liquor; they shouted at the people in power that summer, poured out in strong voices the heated songs within their hearts.


Then at some point the little waterfall disappeared.

The bare rock, its breasts dried up, lay naked and the low, soft voice could not be heard.


The lake’s body too grew gaunt, and though its body would soften as rain fell on summer evenings and it would sing songs of faint memories, the melodies did not come flowing down.


It changed into gray garments that did not suit it and, once it was wrapped about with barbed wire to keep people out, its body grew even more gaunt and its heart no longer grew heated.


Once it could no longer sing songs on moon-lit nights, the waterfall’s strong voice died and went to heaven, then at dawn it would rub tears into the rock’s dried-up breasts in a voice devoid of strength, that voice dying with the sunrise and going back to heaven.






There is no more sea now in Masan-po. There is no evening sea, that used to soak ankles in the yard of the wharfside house, the mist gathering on the road to the evening sea that lies sprawled, its ample breast exposed, that used to come pouring eagerly in.


The evening sea at Masan-po that used to shine on distant islands, sharing with the islands' very heart, and people, after bathing in the waves' soaking songs until evening when the tide came in, returned as inland bodies embracing the sea, but now no-one returns.


The Masan-po sea that used to soak the ankles of birds between the reed beds behind the backs of departing boats rocking in the wind, the Masan-po sea that was never angry though people returned embracing the sea then failed to return, the Masan-po sea now has only dry teats, having lost those breasts that were once so bashful.


The Masan-po sea that cannot now suckle distant waves and the new moon, the Masan-po sea where between the reed beds, stroking the dry wind's face, birds used to go falling into the evening sea's breast and die then spread as the twilight glow,


The sea lies drained of blood, an empty shell, unable to rise.






Autumn Crosses Mountains


Once it approaches fifty, the body turns into an autumn mountain. Hugging its crimson-hued breast, the body grows heavier, blue bruises remain here and there and the ridges of old scars stand out strongly, while it sometimes sends the trees and leaves that toss between the thick mists surging and winding round its ankles flowing down to a lower place.


After waving from afar at the peak, weary, fainting, the bent-backed roads lie flat below the clouds. The heart grows ever hotter as it crosses the mountains. Breast strikes breast; reclining, a pink mist wraps the roads on the peak as it penetrates the sky's womb, then riding its body it crosses over. The bodies of pink clouds soaked in sweat blossom crimson abundantly.








                       -Handkerchief Painted With the Heavenly Horse 1


After making a turn round Cheomseongdae, looking at Cheomseongdae as it stood waiting for someone, I bought a  handkerchief painted with the heavenly horse at the entrance to the Heavenly Horse Tomb.


On the heavenly-horse-painted handkerchief, a single birch tree with lovely bark had long been standing.

Though it said: Go back, it's time to go back, I did not go

but stood holding the reins of my heart.


People came crowding then vanished, the sun set, evening came,

the time came for the woods to sleep but the single birch stood until its body grew dark.


Though old, looking up at the sky, just looking at Cheomseongdae as it stood there,

saying: It's alright if I die, just being able to look, it's alright if I die,

the single birch tree had long been standing.





Note:  Cheomseongdae is an ancient stone tower in the former Silla capital of Gyeongju. The Heavenly Horse Tomb is one of the royal tombs not far from the tower, in it was found a wooden saddle painted with a flying "heavenly horse" which gave it its name.





A Snapweed Letter

                       -Handkerchief Painted With the Heavenly Horse  3


On the coast of Siberia, at the navel of an old hill, a snapweed was blooming on a distant cliff that no hand could reach. Early one morning before the sea had opened its eyes I emerged from the dormitory of the Naval College and was gazing intensely at the snapweed's round breast.


It told me that snapweed was also blooming by the brushwood gate through which I had left my home aged twenty, when the hot moon had departed from my breast.


In its green and red eyes, that drew me the more I gazed, I could see dewdrop tears saying: You took such a round-about way, you have only now arrived, could you still not receive the letter launched on the waves escaping from your breast?









                       --Handkerchief Painted With the Heavenly Horse  4


When the moon was full, Lake Baikal put its heart's rough waves to sleep within, entered its fully pregnant body, sent the umbilical cord far away and made a river.


Riding on moonlight,

the river

passed birch woods,

crossed sleeping villages


passed plains,

reached the distant dawn sea


gave birth to islands

one by one

then came back again.