Two poems by Kim Chŏl (a North Korean poet)

Published in the first issue of Asia, 2006

Harbor’s Winter

Flocks of white seagulls are flying freely
amidst the forest of towering masts.
At the quayside pile upon pile of whiting
have set the harbor women dancing for joy.
With her gum boots turned down halfway,
Deoksam’s mum whirls her burly arms
reckoning she’s as good as her husband . . .

Then someone cries: “Hey, girls!
What would we do without husbands?”
Clamorous laughter runs round the quay;
how right that expression is, in a place like this.

Eagerly gulping down fresh fish soup,
sisters, mothers, neighborhood women,
hard-working, healthy, fearless,
women from the northern region are working.

Don’t scold, saying they talk roughly . . .
drummed into our ears ever since we were kids,
I too can’t easily lose my native dialect . . .

Ah! Bearing mountain-like loads of those women’s joy.
boats go out and boats return.
What kind of harbor would it be if there were no women!
What kind of home would it be with no local dialect!


Far from home

The sun is setting beyond the hills.
In the woods night is coming.
Five ri along a narrow path, as I seek my way
a flurry of snow obscures the way ahead.

I recall . . . my precious one!
I wonder what you are doing now?
Lowering the lamp in the room
are you examining the children’s homework?

Or abruptly lifting your head
are you fretting at the snow falling beyond the window?
The day of my return is still far off
but perhaps . . . hoping secretly for good fortune
are you hurrying to find the fare to the station?

Perhaps even in the distant future
I’ll often be away from you like this
obliged to go traveling round restlessly
visiting streets, villages, seas, mountains
to visit the people working there . . .

Shall I never be able to view the whole universe with my eyes
like when I gaze into your eyes?
Shall I never be able to give my poems to the whole world
like when I pour love into your breast?

Parting is sorrowful, but . .  let’s not fear!
If ever I rejected poetry-writing from my life
and just sat there at home for you alone
why, what a terrible parting that would be
an eternal parting from life!

The snow has stopped and the moon is bright in the sky.
Forget your cares and rest quietly.
Tonight too, our nation’s sky – a single roof
sloping endlessly over you and everything.