The Early Lyrics of Midang, So Chong-Ju (1915 – 2000)


Flower Snake Poems   (1941)








Dad was a menial servant.

Late at night, he was still not home.

My grandmother stood there,

old like the shrivelled roots of a leek,

a jujube tree flowering.

A whole month long, my mother had cravings

for one green apricot. . .

under an oil lamp in earthen walls,

her black-nailed son.

Some say I look like mother's dad.:

the same mop of hair, his big eyes.

In the Year of Revolt he went to sea

and never came back, the story goes.

What's raised me, then, these twenty-three years

is the power of the wind, for eight parts in ten.

The world 's course has yielded only shame;

some have perceived a felon in my eyes,

others a fool in this mouth of mine,

yet I'm sure there's nothing I need regret.


Even on mornings when day dawned in splendour,

the poetic dew anointing my brow

was always mingled with drops of blood;

I've come through life in sunshine and shadows

like a sick dog panting, its tongue hanging out.





Flower snake



A back road pungent with musk and mint.

So beautiful, that snake. . .

What huge griefs brought you to birth?

Such a repulsive body!


You look like a flowered silk gaiter ribbon!

With your crimson mouth where that eloquent tongue

by which you grandsire beguiled poor Eve

now silently flickers

look, a blue sky. . .  Bite! Bite vengefully!


Run! Quick! That vile head!


Hurling stones, hurling, quickly there

headlong down the musky, grass-sweet road,

pursuing it

not because Eve was our grandsire's wife

yet desperate, gasping

as if after a draft of kerosene. . .  yes, kerosene. . .


If I could only wrap you round me,

fixed on a needle's point;

far more gorgeous than any flowered silk. . .


Those lovely lips, blazing crimson,

as if from sipping Cleopatra's blood. . .  sink in now, snake!


Our young Sunnee's all of twenty, with pretty lips, too,

like those of a cat. . .  sink in now, snake!







A leper mourned

the sun and sky.


The moon rose over the barley fields

as he ate a baby's flesh


and wept crimson like a flower all night.







The path winds between fields of crimson flowers

which picked and eaten yield sleep-like death.


Calling me after, my love races on,

along the sinuous ridge-road, that sprawls

like a serpent opium-dazed.


Blood from my nostrils flows fragrant

filling my hands as I speed along


in this scorching noontide still as night

our two bodies blazing. . .




Barley-time summer



A stony stream burns beyond yellow clay walls,

heat bleaches barley that seems to hide guilt.

Where has mother slipped off,

leaving her sharp sickle back on its shelf?


Among the rocks where a wild boar once went

gasping, bleeding, along the path, the field path,

a leper wept, his clothes all crimson,


a girl stretched snake-like on the ground

sweating, sweating,

as I stood dizzy, she drew me down.




A kiss



Pretty girl, oh pretty pretty pretty girl!

Off you dash, out into the bean-field,

roughly smashing the fence down,

saying nothing except: Come come come!


Love, with love's pomegranate trees in flower,

west wind, stars, all laughing matters;

On each green hill a wild deer stands,

frog with frog, green frog with green frog


and the stream flows on towards the western sky. . .


On the ground, a long long kiss; oh the shuddering,

biting wormwood, teeth so white set on edge,

bestial laughter tasting so sweet, tasting

as sweet as tears.




Pretty girl



Tears spring, tears spring,

as your hair hangs fresh washed,

you demand sour apples to bite; what to do? 

This moonlit evening fenced in by the west wind,

gourd flowers white all over the roof,

nightingales calling under the leaves of trees far away,

insects buzzing, a flute sobbing,

a long hair-ribbon bright in the moonlight as deer call.

Your tears overflow though you gaze at the hills, the hills:

what to do, Yon-sun? Your lips blush crimson.




Peach Blossom,  my love



I stand at a crossroads, cheeks burning

under a green tree's cool green shade,

gazing ahead, gazing ahead.


Jeremiah on my nakedness,

rapes on Piro Peak.


Out of the crazed sky

Ophelia's crazed songs echoing


sweet foe, a moment of rest

in my pursuit of you.


A cloud shades my slight fever

so I'll flow on, still green, still green,

and setting with the sun, I'll come to visit you.




The legend of the tiled-roof house



The years lived by that lass, her eye-lashes so long,

a long ribbon, a long red ribbon in her hair.

The tiled-roof house's millenial arching Milky Way

has thickened blue, utterly blue.


That lass so shy, like shy fruit that trembles in any breeze.

The green snake.

The green snake that ate the mulberry fruit.

With a lantern hung from the indigo sky

pregnant with thunder,

with lightning and showers,


Sook died silently, coughing blood quietly:

she had lovely fingernails, they say.




A poem about my old neighbourhood



When  I stand leaning against this icy stone wall,

I feel newly robed in fresh white muslin,

a weird sensation, as if I were back in old Koguryo,

native home of my soul, its eyes nearly closed,

and old words return like stars new emerging.


The evening lamp is already being lit. . .

I have wrongly lived for so many years!

Now I resolve to forget for ever the girls of Seoul,

sorrowful, tormented like Charles Baudelaire.


14, Sudae-dong, in Mount Sonwang's shadow:

a clay-built house, from my great-grandfather's time,

who used to make salt in the Changsu marshes;

my mother was expert at shellfish gathering,

and my father could hoist fifteen bushels on his back,


here ten years ago we two were together,

I and Kumnyo in her green blouse, March's Kumnyo

merrily laughing, a bridal pin firmly binding up her hair.


Soon spring will be back

and I'll get Kumnyo's younger sister,

her sister with the dark eye-brows.

Once I've got her, I'll live in Sudae-dong again.







Peach-flowers blossom, peach-flowers die, serpents wake, while over the west wind that brings emerald swallows, look, the sky, where ghosts dwell. The blood circulates well. . .  if no sickness comes, my dear, then I must expect some sorrow, some sorrow.




River waters of sorrow



Somewhere, drizzle is falling

like tears shed by one kept from coming,

a twilight river flowing soundless. . .

only red red tears

soaked in dark crimson,

even when I try to smile,

by day, by night, at roadsides, too,

river waters of sorrow flow on,

ever surging on my brow. . .

in spring or on winter nights when lamps are lit.




The wall



Weary of the wall I have been vacantly watching,

I kill both lights and clocks


not yesterday, not tomorrow, not today,

not here, not there, not anywhere,


flickering like a  firefly in the expiring darkness,

the grief of the static 'I'

the grief of the 'I' like a mute. . . .


When spring comes and azalea-cliffs flame red in the sun

I'll kick the wall and cry out in choking tones! like a mute,

Ah, wall!




A postcard to the novelist Kim Dong Ri



With my hair crew-cut like this,

my face looks quite different from any other poet's.

I laugh with flinty teeth, the sky's so fine.

I'm glad to say my nails are thickening like tortoise-shell.


Until we're dead, old friend, and in our afterlife,

let's tell no more tales of nightingale girls.

Why did we pose as noblemen

like Li-Po with his long thin neck?


Even on moonlit nights worthy of Paul Verlaine

I simply plait straw with Bokdong the country lad.

If I hear faint weeping from distant China

I swear I'll cut off that shame-stricken ear.




A fragment



Nothing but the wind. Nothing but the night, and frost, and  myself alone.

Let me walk, walk on, is my blood ripening in the pure blue sky as apples ripen? As apples ripen and drop?

Will tomorrow be that marvellous day? The day after that? Or the year after next?




An owl



I wonder by what perversity that cursed creature

visits us with its moping cry at deepest midnight?

It obviously bears some grudge against my father

and mother, against me and my wife-to-be as well.

First and foremost my poetry, then my features,

down to each single dishevelled hair. . . that wretch

has been spying by day as well,

like the shadow of far off distant darkness,

its cry a dubious spell. Though the blood-tinged surge

of the world beyond has soaked its wings, still,

its unclosing eyes turned heavenwards:

tu-whit. . . tu-whoo. . .  Ah, owl, long ago

you built your round home in the darkness inside my head

and came to live there.




From the noon-day hills



- to be like a gazelle or like a young stag on the fragrant hills

(Song of Songs)



Do not behold with your tearful eyes. . .

this deep sweet trembling of boundless desire

or my lips' blood-moistened kiss tight

against the noon zenith with its raucous laughter. . .


Ah! How is it to be endured?

The sorrowful all went to Chinese lands,

but I drew honey into my heart

with whining wild bee swarms.


Look, lass, look how beautiful I am!


My complexion the dark tint of bark,

a golden sunblaze crowning my brow,


let's leap as we dance the dance of my stag

on this flowered mat fragrant with myrrh and musk


into the midst of laughing beasts, of beasts.




Ko Eul-na's daughter



There is suddenly laughter before me

so I lift up my drink-bleared eyes, and there

is a girl swamped in five-tinted coral;


has she risen from the sea?


How beautiful if I could glimpse in the sea

her hair, or her nostrils, her nostrils even.


Grains from the fruit of wild pomegranate flowers

on rocky cliffs, her lips. . .  her teeth. . .


Tell me, by what name is that girl called?


Since there was shade, I seized her wrist:

I don't know. I don't know. I don't know. I don't know.


Eyes wide she goes racing towards the hills

and vanishes, singing barley-time songs when she's alone.




Rooster   I



The flowery nature of a dozen equatorial sunflowers,

a night with the Milky Way heaving over kindled torches.

How did I come to love that sleeping rooster?


Only our heads protruding from the sand,

at dawn we lie sobbing for joy

so our new-grown teeth all tremble.


My naked body, every nook and cranny,

is darkened to a persimmon hue. . .

The rooster laughs with a rustle of drooping feathers;


we're on good terms, like brothers sworn,

so with crests on our heads like national flags waving

let's crow millenial Chigui Isle's noontide.




Rooster  II



How is it that I long to drink the blood of the one I love?

'Magdalene in a rock-crystal shrine!'


The rooster's comb is a flower that blossoms over its heart;

a cloud floats by, moist and yet. . .

Magdalene's bouquet of roses.


Wretched fowl, haughtily gazing around! Is the apple

of Creation's first age clean and clear in your eye?


Having already reached this peak,

how can love be compatible?


I'll slay you on a cross of sunflower stalks.

The murder of my mute silent fowl. . .


Dressed in Cain's crimson garb,

I feel how my fingers tremble and shake.


My scalp tingles at the taste of my fowl's fresh liver;

there, large as a cockscomb, a crest quietly emerges. . .




The sea



I listen intently but the sea and I are here alone;

though countless nights come and go above the ripples

rocking countless to and fro, always the path is everywhere

and in the end is nowhere at all.


Your tear-drenched cheeks are veiled in night,

there's not so much as a firefly spark of lamplight.

Sink now, submerged with your flower-like heart

blazing alone in submarine depths of silence.


Play your four-holed flute, young man,

above the sea's abyss, the sea that surges

fresh and green, overwhelmed with passion,

bearing aloft the heaven's round.

Forget your father,

forget your mother,

forget your brothers, family, and friends,

last of all forget even your love,


and go to Alaska, no, to Arabia,

no, to America, no, go to Africa,

or rather, no, sink down down down!

With hair waving slow like blades of grass

above the burdens of a dizzy heart,

how can my agony ever fill the sea?

Open your eyes. Open loving eyes. . . young man.

In mountain and sea, in every direction,

a fatherland lies, soaked in night and blood.


Go to Alaska!

Go to Arabia!

Go to America!

Go to Africa!




The gateway



To open your eyes alone by night is a fearful thing.

To open your eyes alone by night is a painful thing.

To open your eyes alone by night is a dangerous thing.


A beautiful thing, a beautiful thing. Become a flower

lost in a vast ruined fortress!

Ah! This hour. Most precious of hours, causing the hair to shake and move, that must rise kindled above our dead flesh.


Bequeathing nothing but lungs and toenails

to a soul-tablet brimming with blood and light,

let's toss aside our clothes and shoes.

Let's say farewell to neighbours and home.


One unrepentant, unrepentant,

eyes wide open like those of a girl!


Come, burning, burning along frozen paths, a dagger

concealed in your breast; in the depths of knowledge

your cherished thorny gateway weeps.




Ode to the West Wind



In the wind gusting from the west:

fragrant spruce or juniper,

a dog-skin drum,

my woman's twirling ribbon twelve spans long,


deer, roe-deer, wanton deer,

the scar of your toenails,

the sound of a flute,


a blind man weeping,

the Goddess of Mercy asleep.


In the wind gusting from the west:

an ocean's madness,

a prison term. . . .







I have come looking for you, Suna. And I find so many of you here before me! As I walk along Chongno, you come smiling from all directions! Every morning, as the dawn cockrel crowed I longed to see you. It seems my calling reached your ears? Tell me, Suna, how many ten thousand hours has it been? After the flowery bier vanished over the hills that day, all that remained in my gaze was the empty sky: not one strand of hair, of hair to touch, only endless rain. . . .  Once beyond the candlelight, once through the stony gate where the owls mope, the river flows for many thousand leagues; once gone, no news can return. On what rainbow then have you come down, descending from that difficult address? Here and there, glimmering at the Chongno crossroads, young girls approach, their voices chattering. Some of them are nineteen or twenty, too. . .  Throned in their eyes, their veins, their hearts: Suna! Suna! Suna! You are all of you rising before me now!