Poems by Celebrated Korean Poets


Translated and introduced by Kim Jong-Gil, revised with Brother Anthony


Kim Jong-Gil died on April 1, 2017, in his 91st year. While he was teaching British and American poetry in Korea University and translating poems by many contemporary Western poets he also translated a considerable number of 20th-century Korean poems into English. These were published in various (unrecorded) magazines but never as a single volume, although that had been our intention in collecting and revising them some time in the later 1990s. A number of these translations were included in the anthology The Colors of Dawn (Manoa, 2016) and the rest are here made freely available online as a tribute to his memory.  Brother Anthony


Han Yong-un 3

I Cannot Tell 3

Secrets 3

An Artist 3

I Planted a Willow 4

Your Face 4

Kim Sowol 6

Azaleas 6

On the Hills Are Blooming Flowers 6

Spring Night 7

Unable to Forget 7

The Pillow for Two 7

Chong Chi-Yong 9

The Glass Window I 9

Nostalgia 9

Horse 1 10

The Lake 1 10

The Orchid 10

In Guseongdong Valley 11

Yu Chi-hwan 12

The Good Tree 12

The Prison Cemetery 12

Yi Sang 14

Morning 14

Mirror 14

Exercise 15

So Chong-ju 16

The Sea 16

One Autumn Day 17

Tohwa, Tohwa 17

The Swing 18

Viewing Mudung 18

Pak Tu-jin 20

Hyanghyon 20

Home Village 20

The Voices of Children 22

Pak Mog-weol 23

Lonely Appetite 23

On a Certain Day 24

Lowering the Coffin 24

Prayer in Four Verses 25

Cho Chi-hun 27

To my Disease 27

Gayageum 28

At Dabuwon 29

Buddhist Dance 29

Rain upon the Plantain 30

Min Jae-sik 31

To Regina 31

To Cornelia 31

The Scapegoat I 32

The Scapegoat II 33

An Unfinished Work with no Title 33

Pak Seong-yeong 35

On Top of a Mountain 35

The Fruit Tree 35

White Magnolia 36

At Summer’s End 36

An Extra Drop of God 37

Huh Man-ha 38

Neanderthal Man 38

Tongjom Station 38

A Dancer 39

Lonely Embrace 40

An Unfinished Self-Portrait 40

Heo Yeong-cha 41

The White Towel 41

Autumn 41

To a Cricket 41

The Scourging 42

Gathering Seeds 42

A Comb 43

Long Spring Days 43





Han Yong-un

(1879 - 1944)


Han Yong-un was born in Hongseong, South Chungcheong Province, in 1879. Having studied classical Chinese in his native village, he began at the age of twenty to study Buddhist scriptures at a Buddhist monastery in Mt. Seorak and became a Buddhist monk in 1905. In 1908, he traveled in Japan, visiting Kyoto and Tokyo. After the Japanese annexation of Korea in 1910, he played a leading role in resisting Japan’s policies toward Korean Buddhism and the Korean people at large. He even lived for a while in exile in Manchuria. In the 1919 Korean Independence Movement, he was one of the most active among the thirty-three signers of the Declaration of Independence and had to spend three years in prison. It was presumably during this period of imprisonment that he began to write modern-style poems in Korean. These “modern” poems, distinguished from both his sijo poems and his poems in Chinese, were collected in a volume, The Silence of Love, which was first published in 1926. A great Korean Buddhist, patriot and poet, he died in Seoul in 1944.



I Cannot Tell


Whose footstep is that paulownia leaf, quietly falling, a perpendicular wave drawn in the windless air?

Whose face is that patch of blue sky that sometimes peeps through the menacing black clouds driven by the west wind after long, tedious rain?

Whose breath is that subtle scent lingering in the still air around that old pagoda, drifting from the green moss on a somber flowerless tree?

Whose song is that small stream winding from an unknown spring, ringing over the pebbles?

Whose poem is that evening glow adorning the sunset, its lotus-like heels treading the boundless sea, its jade-like hands caressing the endless sky?

The burnt-out ash turns back into oil. Over whose night does the tiny lamp of my ever-burning heart keep vigil?






Secrets? O no. What secrets can I have?

I tried to keep my secrets from you, but in vain.


My secrets have entered your sight through my tears;

My secrets have entered your hearing through my sighs;

My secrets have entered your touch through my trembling heart;

Another secret of mine has become my devotion and entered your dreams.

Still I have one final secret. But it cannot be revealed, being like a voiceless echo.




An Artist


I am a clumsy artist.

Lying sleepless on my bed,

with my fingers I drew on my breast

your nose, your mouth,

even the dimples on your cheeks;

but I failed, even after many tries,

to draw your eyes

with their constant smile.


I am a shy singer.

When my neighbour had gone

and the insects’ chirping ended,

I tried in vain the song you taught me.

but shy before a sleeping cat

I failed.

So softly I sang with the wind

at the door.


I do not seem to have the mind

to be a lyric poet.

Joy, sorrow, love

do not inspire me.

I wish to write

your face, your voice,

your manner of walking,

just as they are.

I will write about your house,

your bed,

and the tiny stones

in your garden.




I Planted a Willow


I planted a willow in the yard

To keep your horse detained,

But you made whips of the willow

And sped away.


I planted a willow in the yard

To make whips for my horse,

But the myriad withes of the willow

Tie my heart down.




Your Face


‘Lovely’ is not an adequate word with which to describe your face.

That is a word for human things, but your face is far too lovely for any such human word.


No matter how I ponder, I cannot discover why Nature has sent such a beautiful being as you to us.

And yet I know. It is because in Nature, there is nothing that can equal you.


Where is a lotus to match your lips? Where is white jade like your complexion?

Who ever saw ripples on a springtime lake comparable to your gaze?

What fragrance from the Morning Star is equal to your smiles?

The music of heaven is your song’s echo. The brightest stars are your eyes incarnate.


O! I am your shadow.

You have no equal, only a shadow.

‘Lovely’ is not an adequate word with which to describe your face.




Kim Sowol

(1902 - 1934)


Kim Sowol was born in 1902 in Kuseong, North Pyeongan Province. He went to Osan High School, where under the influence of Kim Ok he started to write poems. Some of his early poems were published in the literary magazine Changjo (Creation, 1919-21). He was a student at Tokyo Commercial University before he settled back in his native district, running a branch office of Dong-A Ilbo, a Seoul daily newspaper. In 1925 he published the collection Azaleas on which his fame chiefly rests. He was unsuccessful in business and became so desperate that he took to heavy drinking. He was only thirty-two when he was found dead in 1934. In 1939, his poems were collected and published in a volume by his former teacher Kim Ok under the title of Sowol Shicho (Collected Poems of Sowol).





When you leave,

Weary of me,

I will gently let you go.


An armful of azaleas

From Yaksan, Yongbyon,

I will gather to adorn your path.


Tread softly,

Step by step,

Upon the flowers as you go.


When you leave,

Weary of me,

I will bite my lip to stop my tears.




On the Hills Are Blooming Flowers


On the hills are blooming flowers,

Flowers bloom;

Autumn, spring, summer through,

The flowers bloom.


On the hills,

On the hills,

Flowers bloom;

Each alone, the flowers bloom.


The little birds singing on the hills

Are living

On the hills,

For the flowers bloom.

On the hills are fading flowers,

Flowers fade,

Autumn, spring, summer through,

The flowers fade.




Spring Night


Upon old boughs, the dim locks of willows,

On the indigo skirts, the large wings of swallows,

And by the window of the pub, look! isn’t that spring?


Softly the breeze breathing, sobbing and sighing:

On a spring night when you sadden and yearn, but for nothing,

The tender, damp air floats, embracing the ground.




Unable to Forget


You may remember, unable to forget:

yet live a lifetime, remember or forget,

For you will have a day when you will come to forget.


You may remember, unable to forget:

Let your years flow by, remember or forget,

For once in a while, you will forget.


On the other hand it may be:

‘How could you forget

What you can never forget?’




The Pillow for Two


Shall I try to die,

Grinding my teeth?

The moon sadly glows

At my window side.


Tearful, I lie huddled

Head on elbow pillowed;

Spring pheasants come

And, sleepless, sob at night.


Where at this moment

Is that pillow for two,

On which we used to make

Our desperate vows of love?


At the foot of a hill,

Now that spring’s here,

The cuckoo will soon be singing

His own amorous song.


Where at this moment

Is that pillow for two?

The moon sadly glows

At my window side.




Chong Chi-Yong

(1902 - ?)


            Chong Chi-yong was born in 1902 in Okcheon, North Chungcheong Province. He attended Huimun High School in Seoul and Doshisha University in Kyoto, where he studied English literature. Graduating from Doshisha University, he started to teach English at Huimun High School. After the liberation of Korea in 1945, he taught at Ewha Woman’s University and also, briefly, worked at a Seoul daily newspaper as editor-in-chief. In February, 1948, he resigned his teaching post at the university and spent his time on writing and calligraphy at home until the Korean War, during which he was taken north by the Communists.

Chong Chi-yong published poems from his students days, and his poems were collected in two volumes before Liberation: Chong Chi-yong Shijip (The Collected Poems of Chong Chi-yong, 1935) and Paeknokdam (The White Deer Lake, 1941). He also joined in the activities of a few literary groups. After the liberation, he wrote mainly prose and little poetry. By his exact and precise imagery and diction, he has been recognized as the modernizer of Korean poetry and exerted a strong influence on some of the important younger poets.



The Glass Window I


The glass flickers with something cold and sad.

When listlessly I come close with blurring breath,

It flaps its frozen wings as if well tamed.

I keep rubbing and looking through it,

But only the jet-black night ebbs and flows, dashing against it,

And moistened stars, glinting, embed themselves in it like jewels.

It is, perhaps, on account of a lonely, entranced heart

That I wipe the glass, all alone, at night.

But ah! You have flown away like a mountain bird,

With your lovely lung-veins rent.






The babbling rivulet runs swerving

East to the end of the open field,

Where brindled oxen would bellow

Golden, indolent at sundown.

--Could I ever forget the spot asleep or waking?


When the fire-pot ashes have cooled,

The night gale gallops past the empty field;

The old father, dozing, props his head

Up on the straw-filled pillow.

--Could I ever forget the spot asleep or waking?


My heart was reared on the earth,

So it longed for the blue of the sky.

I soaked my clothes in the dew-wet grass,

Seeking the arrows I shot up into the sky.

--Could I ever forget the spot asleep or waking?


My younger sister, black hair over her temples

Dancing like the night-waves on a legendary sea,

And my plain, unattractive wife,

Always bare-footed,

Gleaned a field under the scorching sun.

--Could I ever forget the spot asleep or waking?


The sparse stars in the sky

Move towards some unknown sand dunes;

The frosty crows pass crowing over the shabby roof,

Yet under it, in the dim lamp-light, sweet voices hum.

--Could I ever forget the spot asleep or waking?




Horse 1


Horse, as high as the loft,

you look so dignified,

but why do you look so sad?

Horse, always a companion to man,

shall I give you beans, black and green?


This horse does not know who gave birth to him,

he sleeps every night looking up at the moon far away.




The Lake 1


A mere face

can be covered

with two palms.


I cannot

but close my eyes,

for I miss you as much as the lake.




The Orchid


The orchid leaf

is the colour of Indian ink, if anything.


To the orchid leaf

comes thin fog and dreams.


The orchid leaf

has shut lips that open at midnight.


The orchid leaf

awakes at starlight nad lies with its back turned.


The orchid leaf

is at a loss, wondering how to hide its bare elbow.


To the orchid leaf

comes a little breath of wind.


The orchid leaf





In Guseongdong Valley


Often in this valley

shooting stars are buried,


and noisily at dusk

hailstones accumulate.


Here, even the flowers

are lonely as if in banishment.


Not a breath of wind lingers

where once a temple stood,


and in the slanting mountain shadow

a stag rises to move over the ridge.



Yu Chi-hwan

(1908 - 1967)


            Yu Chi-hwan (also known by the pseudonym Chongma) was born in 1908 in Jungmu, South Gyeongsang Province. He went to primary and secondary schools in Jungmu, Tokyo and Busan. He entered Yeonhui College (the present-day Yonsei University), which he left after less than a year in 1928. In the same year, he went again to Tokyo, where he began writing poetry under the stimulus of the Japanese anarchist poets and Chong Chi-yong. After publishing a poem in a literary monthly in December, 1931, his poems appeared frequently in various media, while he was owner of a photo studio in Pyongyang, a clerk in a chain-store in Busan, a teacher in a secondary school in Chungmu, and a farm-manager in Northern Manchuria.

His first collection of poems, Chongma Shicho (Selected Poems of Chongma) was published in 1939, followed by ten more volumes of poems plus a few volumes of essays, all published after 1947. He was awarded several prizes, elected a member of the Korean Academy of Arts and made chairman of a couple of literary organizations. His post-1945 occupation was in the field of education; he was head at several high schools in North and South Gyeongsang Provinces. He was killed in a traffic accident in Busan in February, 1967.



The Good Tree


On the side of a road I used to travel, there stood an old pine tree stretching its dark branches high in a casual manner. Even on windless days, the branches would be sighing so sadly that I would linger for a while beneath the tree, happy to send my thoughts adrift with that sighing into a corner of the sky. One day I found that the tree had been cut down.

Even though reality might indeed have preferred the wood for heat to the shade and the sound of wind, I stood grieving in its place, stretching my arms high into the air; but how could my palms make the profound rustle of pine branches?

Not that the divine music ceased to linger in the remote sphere above my head, but I grieved over the absence of the good tree to prove it.




The Prison Cemetery



On these utterly, utterly forsaken graves of rebels,

do even overgrowing mugworts burst into empty laughter?

Since in your stark nakedness you were truly human,

you have been discarded like beasts here on this Golgotha

of disgrace, carrying the crosses of original sin.

However hard and bitter the lashes of punishment

which you suffered, grinding your teeth,

it is rather a glorious end to flower-like life

that you have braved, denying and defying, derisively,

the stupendous pretension, hypocrisy and fictitiousness

disguised as ethics, laws and morlas!

Yet agin,

accuse, with your nihility,

the iniquity of man dominating man.


As your life and mine were worth little already,

we should have no reason to fear or resent

this humiliation, this insult shunned even by your closest kindred.

but I still do, O brethren who have gone my way

before me, if our shivering souls

should arrive in rags, one day,

at the gate of salvation

and beg and sob like orphans.


Laugh away, emptily like those withered mugworts,

that you have been forsaken by rotten mankind.



Yi Sang

(1910 - 1937)


Yi Sang, whose real name was Kim Hae-gyeong, was born in Seoul in 1910. After four years’ study at Poseong High School, he entered the Department of Architecture, Keijo Engineering College in 1926. Upon graduating in 1929, he was employed by the Chosen Government General, but he resigned his post in 1933, due to hemorrhages of the lungs. After a period of recuperation, he turned his hand to running a cafe, without success. The poem he first published in 1931, in an architectural magazine, was in Japanese, it was in July, 1933 that he began publishing poems in Korean. It was also in 1933 that he joined the literary circle ‘Guinhoe’ (Nine Men’s Club) and edited its anthology “Poetry and Fiction.” He also published a number of short stories and essays which were as sensational as his dadaist or surrealist poems. He had a talent for fine arts, too, one of his paintings being officially chosen for exhibition in 1931.

To find a way out of his own immoderate life-style, he went to Tokyo in September, 1936, but in February, 1937, he was arrested by the Japanese police on suspicion of seditious activities. He was released in about a month, due to his illness, and died in the Tokyo University Hospital in April that year, at the age of 27. For his literary activities spanning about four years, he is regarded as the most avant-garde genius in modern Korean literature.





 It is bad for the lungs to inhale the dark air. It brings soot to settle on the surface of the lungs. All night I suffer from fever. O how much the night is! I carry it in and out till I forget and dawn breaks. Morning kindles the lungs, too. I look around to see if something disappeared during the night. I find custom is back again. Only many pages have been torn out of my luxurious books. Morning is written in detail on a frustrated conclusion. It is as if the noiseless night is gone for ever.






There is no sound in the mirror;

perhaps no other world is so quiet.


Even in the mirror I have ears,

two sad ears that cannot understand my words.


The I in the mirror is left-handed,

a left-hander who cannot accept a hand-shake.


Because of the mirror I cannot feel myself in the mirror,

but without the mirror, how could I imagine meeting myself in the mirror?


I have no mirror with me now, but always there is the I in the mirror:

Though I am not sure, he may be busy in separation from this partner.


The I in the mirror is my opposite, nevertheless is quite similar to me:

I regret I cannot worry about, and examine, myself in the mirror.






 Since I saw nothing to the north and nothing to the south when I climbed to the roof garden above the third floor above the second floor above the first floor I descended from the roof garden to the third floor to the second floor to the first floor when because the sun that rose in the east was setting in the west and rising in the east and setting in the west and rising in the east and setting in the west and rising in the east and stopped just at the center of the sky I took out my watch and looked at it the time was correct though it had stopped but it must be so that I could not help believing it was not so much that I was younger than the watch as that the watch was younger than I that I threw the watch away.




So Chong-ju

(1915 - 2000)


So Chong-ju was born in 1915 in Gochang, North Jeolla Province. After attending high schools in Seoul and Gochang, he studied Buddhism under Master Park Han-yong and, in 1935, entered Jungang Buddhist College, which he left after about a year. In January 1936, he made his poetic debut and, in November of the same year, edited a group anthology Shiin Burak (The Poet’s Village). He published his first collection of poems Hwasajip (The Flower-snake Collection) in 1941, followed by Gwichokdo (Nightingale) in 1946; other collections of poems followed regularly after that. From 1948, he held posts at a newspaper and in the Ministry of Education; during and after the Korean War, he taught at colleges and universities. From 1960 to 1979, he was a professor at Dongguk University, of which he was in his later years a professor emeritus. In later years, he travelled widely in the world.

It is generally agreed that So Chong-ju was the greatest poet of modern Korea. He was by nature a conservative and in his old age was often vilified for the subservient attitude he adopted toward the Japanese, and then the dictators who ruled Korea after Liberation. Throughout his poetic career his work underwent notable changes, but he was always recognized as the most outstanding lyric poet in Korea. He received numerous awards and translations of his poems have been published in several languages.



The Sea


There are only the sea and me, though I keep listening.

Innumerable days and nights come and go

Over the innumerable waves that ebb and flow,

but there are ways everywhere always

And nowhere after all.


Ah, without even a lamp as tiny as a firefly,

Your tear-drenched face lost in the complete dark,

Sink yourself down, as a flower-like heart

Blazing all alone in the silent depths of the sea.


O the sea, the round heaven overhead, warbling

Out of its own youthful passion!

Pipe your flute with four stops

Onto the deep of the sea---O young man.


Forget your father;

Forget your mother;

Forget your brothers, kins, and friends;

And lastly, forget your girl:


Go to Alaska; no, go to Arabia;

No, go to America; no, go to Africa;

No, sink down. Sink down. Sink down!


O my hair waving like grass-blades over the weight of my confused heart,

Why should I, thus tormented, be preoccupied with the sea to the last?

Wake up. Wake up your lovely eyes, O young man.

In whichever direction of the living seas,

There is a land dripping with night and blood.


Go to Alaska!

Go to Arabia!

Go to America!

Go to Africa!




One Autumn Day


Wrapped in a hooded cloak bought on monthly installments from a cloak peddler,

The whining child has fallen asleep on its mother’s back;


Above a dim pine shrub at the end of the sky, look,

The half-turned, gaunt face of my dead father

Worrying about my interrupted schooling.


Why can’t I hear the slow drag of the cloak peddler’s shoes?

Why can’t I hear now the drag of her worn-out white rubber shoes?

Did someone welsh, leaving her bankrupt?

Why can’t I hear even the drag of her white rubber shoes this autumn?




Tohwa, Tohwa


At the crossroads under the green trees’ shade,

As I look forward, as I look forward,

My face blushing,


My naked body’s Jermiah,

Rapes on Piro Peak;


In the mad heavens,

Ophelia’s mad songs echoing.


O enemy. O this small rest

On my way towards you.


A cloud shading my slight fever

And floating deadly, deadly pale;

I will set with the sun and visit you.




The Swing

-Words of Chun-hyang


Push the swing, Hyang-dan,

As if pushing a boat

Out to distant seas,

O Hyang-dan;


As if pushing off utterly

From these softly swaying weeping willows,

Grass and flowers like those stitched on pillow-ends,

And tiny butterflies and orioles, O Hyang-dan.


Push me up to that heaven

Without corals and islands;

Push me up like a colored cloud;

Push up this swirling heart!


But, alas, I could not go

Even as the moon passes westward.


So push me up,

As winds push the surf,

O Hyang-dan.




Viewing Mudung


Poverty is nothing but rags.

How could it ever conceal

Our native complexion, our native character

Like that summer mountain

Baring its emerald ridges in glaring sunlight?


We cannot help but raise our young

As a blue mountain raises sacred herbs at its knee.


When afternoon comes

With life swirling at times,

All ye, husbands and wives,

Sit facing, or rather

Lie down together.


Wife, gaze at your husband,

And husband, feel your wife’s forehead.


Though caught deep in brambles and weeds,

We must feel like jade stones buried alone,

And gather green moss thickly about us.

*note: Mudung is a mountain in South Cholla Province near Kwangju.


Pak Tu-jin

(1916 - 1998)


Pak Tu-jin was born in 1916 in Anseong, Gyeonggi Province. He made his debut in 1939 in the literary magazine, Munjang (Literature), on Chong Chi-yong’s recommendation, but he did not publish anything during the last years of Japanese rule when most of the Korean-language media were closed down. It was in the three-men anthology, Chongnokchip (The Green Deer Collection, 1946) that most of the poems he had written during that period made their first appearance. The first collection of his own, Hae (The Sun) was published in 1949, followed by Odo (A Prayer at Noon) in 1953, and he published several more collections after that. After Liberation in 1945, he was mostly engaged in editorial work for publishing houses and magazines, but in 1954 he was invited to teach at Yonsei University, from which he retired in 1981. After his retirement, he taught at Dankook University for some years. The last survivor of what is called the Green Deer Group, he received many awards, including the Free Literature Prize (1956), the Korean Academy of Art Prize (1976), and the Inchon Prize (1988). He died in September 1998.






Beyond the mountain studded with stumpy little pines, beyond the huge mountain behind, beyond the mountain yet behind, no more visible, my mind floats adrift, adrift on the clouds.


The mountain that soars, the mountain prone, thick with tall pines, the rocks tangled over with wild grape vines and creepers, dense with oaks and eulalias and teeming with innumerable animals, racoon dogs, foxes, deer, rabbits, badgers, lizards, and yellow-spotted snakes.


Mountains, mountains, mountains! How boring your silence must have been over a myriad of years!


Mountains, may I await the flames that will one day erupt from your soaring peaks, from your prone ridges?


May I confidently await the day when foxes, wolves, and the like will be playing jubilantly, searching for the shoots of besoms and arrowroots, together with deer and rabbits?


(Note: Hyanghyon is the name of a mountain ridge)




Home Village


They say this is my home village. They say this is my home village where I was born and grew up. My home village where I grew up, where I was born on a straw mat and raised my first cry without knowing where it was, on a long-ago night of blizzard and shivering stars.


Mount Blue Dragon surrounds the village as of old and the sky I looked up at was blue. Though the clouds rise, the heifers low and the swallows twitter, Maksoe, Boksul and other old friends are all gone away; only Dol remains, with spiky whiskers now.


Have twenty years elapsed? O fleeting years! I have come back like a floating cloud, but only the blue sky greets me warmly as in the old days, not the home village. My beloved home seems somewhere else, so I am sadly prompted to tears.

The thin autumn twilight. My father’s grave lonely at the foot of a hill. There are wild raspberries ripening but there is not a tree giving shade, nor a blue bird to come and sing. I pluck and bring pinks, wild chrysanthemums and other wild flowers in a bunch, but I cannot call out, ‘Father.’ I cannot weep over him. I spend half a day on this empty hillside, only choked with tears. Looking up at the floating clouds, I grow even lonelier at the foot of the hill where I, too, may one day be buried.




The Voices of Children


The voices of shouting and laughing children

ring out clearly, spreading to the sky,

out of the splashing muddy alley,

outside the gate,

where the heaviest snow

in forty-odd years melts.

Why haven’t I noticed those voices

that must have been ringing for some time?

I must have been deep in something, unaware,

and come back to myself, to realities,

to an inevitable consciousness of here and now

by the inspiration that awakes me, coming from the alley

beyond the windows, the walls and the furniture.

I must have come to these children’s vivid voices,

coming back to myself from the unconsciousness

in which I was engrossed in something

in pure and abstract meditation.

Those shrill voices, that running and shouting

must have been also mine

when I was their age.

O those children’s voices ringing to the sky

from the mud in which they run

on this day of early spring

when the heaviest snow

in forty-odd years melts

and the south wind stirs.





Pak Mog-weol

(1916 - 1978)


Pak Mog-weol was born in 1916 in a village near Gyeongju, North Gyeongsang Province, and finished Geseong High School in Taegu. He made his debut in 1939 in the magazine, Munjang (Literature) on the recommendation of Chong Chi-yong. He was another member of the ‘Green Deer Group’, his early poems being first collected in the three-men anthology Chongnokchip (The Green Deer Collection, 1946). The first collection on his own was published in 1954 under the title of Sandohwa (Mountain Peach Blossoms), followed by several more volumes of poems.

Having worked in a local branch of a finance corporation, he started teaching at his alma mater upon Liberation in 1945. He subsequently moved to Seoul, where he taught at a girl’s High School and at Hangyang University, while editing and publishing poetry magazines including Shimsang (The Image). He was President of the Korean Poets’ Association and Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Hanyang University, before he died in March, 1978. The awards he received include The Free Literature Prize (1955), the Republic of Korea Literary Arts Prize (1968) and the City of Seoul Culture Prize (1969).




Lonely Appetite


I crave to eat buckwheat jelly,

that bland yet savory

plain yet gentle

farm festival raised on an eight-sided board,

when you welcome new in-laws.

That is the food a desolate hunger dreams of,

when in the dusk of a darkening spring day

a lonely hart

soothes a heart.

Or the food of a lonely taste, craved by

the full liberal tears

of one who has realized life’s true sense.

Father and son sit to table

guest and host sit to table

with mountain herbs

placed at the side;

they eat the food as they murmur of life

like a shabby water mill at the foot of a rustic hill.

And, when, with words thick in dialect,

each gently loving and pitying the other,

thus neighbors

pass through this world

for the world beyond:

Lookahere, ain’t this a fellow I know?

Lookahere, if it ain’t Squire Yi from up the road!

Calling to each other, they travel on and rest,

And at the last inn, share a cheerful cup of makkolli;

It is on this food

that their chopsticks unwittingly light.




On a Certain Day


The word ‘Poet’ is a title

That always comes before my name.

With this worn hat

On my head,

I have wandered through the rainy streets.

This is something too awkward

To be a perfect cover for myself,

Too absurd to be a shelter

For my little ones

Who have nobody else to look up at.

Yet how could a man

Be safe from the wet all his life?

To keep my hair dry--

That is enough

For grateful tears.




Lowering the Coffin


The coffin descended

As if lowered with a rope dragging at my heart;

O Lord,

Receive him, please.

Placing a Bible by his head,

I took soil in my coat

And sprinkling it, bid him farewell.





I met him in dreams.

A long-jawed face turned to me

And called out:


Yes, I replied with my whole being;

Still he couldn’t have heard me.

For here

Is the world of falling rain and snow

Where now I alone hear your voice.





Have you gone,

With that kind, shy, tender gaze?


I hear you calling,

But my voice cannot reach you.


Is the world

Where fruit thumps

When it falls




Prayer in Four Verses




The Lord has shown me

His hands held out together,

His empty hands.

Only my sorrow falls

Like snow upon his palms.

Now, Lord, your hands are full

Like the snow-laden boughs of an evergreen.





I have nothing, Lord,

Fill me with a lovely emptiness

From which everything has been drained,

Until I am like an empty vase

Left at random on a table.




Something I feel

Of sorrow and of ecstasy

Fretting to an irritation.

A moonlit hillside

Ever swept by wind,

Which I call life.

The whole universe

Glows white with moonbeams.




A thin thirst is spread in me

Like the violet twilight over a December field.

Crossing over the chilled waters of half-mockery and half-regret,

I passed towards you, Lord.

Drench my cheeks with hot tears

And drown me in your mercy.



Cho Chi-hun

(1920 - 1968)


Cho Chi-hun, whose real name was Cho Dong-tak, was born in 1920 in a remote village in Yeongyang, North Gyeongsang Province. He spent most of his childhood and boyhood in his native village, studying Chinese classics under his grandfather. In 1936, when he was sixteen years old, he moved to Seoul and taught himself modern subjects in order to pass the qualifying examination for college entrance. In 1941 he graduated from Hyehwa College (the former name of Dongguk University) and started to spend time in a Buddhist monastery, in Seoul, and in his native village, up to the time of Korea’s liberation from Japan. After the liberation, he was an outstanding figure in South Korea, distinguished as poet, critic, scholar, planner, and as organizer. As a teacher, he taught Korean literature at Korea University for twenty years up to his death in May, 1968.

The youngest in age of the Green Deer trio, Cho was the most learned and many-sided character among them. He made his debut in the same magazine and through the same poet’s recommendation as the other two poets, and produced several separate volumes of poems of his own, which are contained in the Complete Works of Cho Chi-hun, published by Ilchisa in 1970.



To my Disease


Though you have gone away somewhere with no news at all

When I turn away from the work I was long occupied with, to take a moment’s breath,

You call on me without fail.


You, always the gloomy visitor,

Come treading a dark sound scale, leading an ominous shadow,

But since you are my old friend,

I regret the time I had forgotten you.


You persuade me to rest and teach me reverence of life.

And what you whisper into my ear is always such nothing

That I close my eyes tightly, though I am terribly glad

To hear that low and heavy voice of yours.


Your hand feeling my warm brow is warmer than my hand,

The wrinkles on your thin brow are more pathetic than mine.


I see my emaciated form of younger days in you,

Hearing the echo of those days

When I tried and tried to be a little more sincere.


When I said that I found this life boundlessly beautiful,

Though I had no attachment, no indulgence in life,

and that I did not fear death, even though punishment in hell awaits me,

You were deeply angered, weren’t you?

You are my cordial and respected friend.


No matter what you say, I am never offended.

But yet you are of a strange temper.

When we disagree, with unpleasant air or discouraging words,

You come ceaselessly seeking to persuade me for days and months,

But when I am willing to worship you,

You take off, leaving me alone.


So long, old friend;

Come any time you feel like it.

Let’s talk of life together again, over a cup of tea.







 I open the window and sit alone when the moon shines bright. O the chrysanthemum fragrance that fills my bosom! A disease indeed, my loneliness.


 Blue tobacco smoke wafts in the cold air; the crimson hue of wine warms my cheeks.


 The universe is still; no one will visit me. Remote as this cosmos is, remembrance ever renews.


 As I fall under the moon, the deep night seems a sea: the remote sound of the waves washes the hut away.



 After placing the kayageum before me like an oar for a small boat and tuning its twelve strings, I lean silent on the wall.


 No sooner are my eyes closed than I feel inspired. I will leave alone my ten dancing fingers.


 A goose flies crying on the lofty road at the end of the clouds; O that stars should be immersed in the clear water of the Galaxy.


 What is my grief, why do I call the name of my Lord, whose journey was lost in dreams but revives?



 The elegant kayageum rouses a boundless dream. Though all twelve strings should be broken they must resound this sentiment.


 Pressing the strings I will dissolve this sorrow, nodding and raising my hand at times,


 “Dung dung dung tu tu dung dung heung heung eung tutu dung dung.” blood reddens my fingertips as I am carried away.


 Why don’t the clouds move, why is the moonlight so white? The blue mountain crumbles at the rising rush of the stream.





At Dabuwon


At Dabuwon where I emerged after a month’s siege

thin autumn clouds are strewn over the mountain ridges.


Place where both sides’ gunfire

spent a whole month roaring and screaming,


Ah, so near to Daegu

was Dabuwon!


In order to make one small village

survive in a free land,

even annual grass and trees

could not entirely end their lives.


O people, do not ask

for what cause this devastated scene

was sacrificed...


Frozen in a pose, shrieking to the sky,

only the head of the corpse of a battle horse;


As if sobbing, moved by his own remorse,

a North Korean soldier lies fallen by the road.


O Tabuwon, where those souls that moved once

with fresh life under the same sky


Now lie rotting and smelling like salted mackerel

in this chilly autumn wind.


Truly, if you cannot believe destiny

and whence it comes,

ah, what rest shall there be for this pitiful corpse?


At Tabuwon I see once more, having survived,

only the wind blows, leaving no abode of peace

either to the dead or to the living.




Buddhist Dance


The white cowl of fine silk gauze,

daintily folded, is a butterfly.


Concealed in the cowl

is the nun’s blue shaven head;


the light along her cheeks

is so truly fine it is sad.


Night deepens with the yellow candle melting in the stand;

moonlight falls on every paulownia leaf.


Long are the sleeves, wide is the sky;

turning, she plunges to pluck at the tip of her stockinged foot.


Lifting her dark eyes gently,

she focuses them on a remote star in the sky.


Two tear-drops stain her peach-blossom cheeks:

her agony, long endured, still shines like a star.


Her hands curve and twist, bend and stretch,

as though clasped in a pious prayer at heart.


It is midnight and crickets are chirping:

the white cowl of fine silk gauze, daintily folded, is a butterfly.




Rain upon the Plantain


A lonely cloud has flown away;

where will it lodge this night?


In the dusk

when sparse rain-drops beat upon the plantain,


I sit, with window open,

and face the blue mountain.


As the sound of water pleases my ears,

so the mountain my eyes every day.


A cloud passed through my dreams all morning;

where will it lodge this night?


Min Jae-sik

(1932 - )


Min Jae-sik was born in 1932 in Hwasun, South Jeolla Province. After attending high school in Gwangju, the capital city of his native province, he entered the English Department of Korea University from which he graduated in 1955. He also studied in the Graduate School of the same university, from which he received an M. A. degree with a thesis on T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets. In the meantime he made his debut in Munhak Yesul (The Literary Art) and also had a chance of spending a few months in the United States as a public servant. It was during this period that he wrote the poems quoted below, under the general title, ‘The Images of the Women I Met in America.’ He taught English at Korea University for a couple of years, while editing the monthly The Study of Current English, published by Sisyongosa of which he is now President.

Min Chae-shik published only one collection of poems, Sokchoeyang (The Scapegoat) in 1960, and has kept poetic silence ever after.



To Regina


The first snow came on her birthday,

Lonely Regina with no guests, no friends:

A few wines were there in a corner of the room,

And his photo, over them, who was killed in the War.


Shy doves perch on the sill of the fourth floor.

Shy doves perch quiet, with folded wings.

‘Shall we give the doves a little food, dear?’


She wished she could have her own,

On early mornings when she was going to do her hair.

She wished she could have a car,

On early mornings when she was going to do her hair.


We were brought up under blue skies;

We were brought up on thin peninsulas;

Poor nations with long history.


There’s no regular service between Venice and Pusan,

But cargo ships arrive with aid from time to time...

‘Shall we give the doves a little food, dear?’




To Cornelia


Cornelia came one day---it was so fine

That flower-pots were out on the sill.

What on earth couldn’t we share?


Your blue eyes dream of the Mediterranean;

We shortcut the long night in distant caress,

With Mother’s incessant knocking in our heads.


“I’ve eaten lots of brains since I was a child,

As my mother told me to;

I should eat’em, she said, for I hadn’t mine.”

So you’ve got the blond hair that was the cow’s.


With the streets of the Capital at my back,

I see my face in the Potomac---

My home’s away on the Yongsan-gang.


“My birthday’s on February 29.

I’ve no birthday again this year.”

“Ah, then, you are only seven?”

O well, I like you all the same.


Morning kisses, hot on the bed!

You cried and cried, but I’m home.

Morning kisses, hot on the bed!

A tough but soft, silly Korean,

I brought with me an alarm-clock.




The Scapegoat I



All sit in silence, watching, through the pale smoke they puff,

a mirage of care-free trees in remote Oceania.

Hearts pounding,

why should each of us meditate on death?

We, the young, are agonised as ears of corn.

(They have beards before their teeth are ripe.)

Under the far-away barren hill,

an exhausted village writhes.

(The mountains are frowns on the earth’s forehead, harassed by mankind.)

The villagers’ little hope, newly blossomed

will be blown away like dandelion fuzz, when the springtime shortage of food recurs.


Ours is a story with no conclusion, however told and argued.

With documents piled high in the in-tray,

privileged people in privileged countries

are bargaining over our conclusion.


We were born in a country full of pride,

but what have we achieved to take pride in?

With tropical hearts but no conclusion,

the young are sad, having exhausted topics of their own.

Is the fatherland a winner’s tip?

Are we scapegoats?


With the windows open,

we all look out to the distant sky,

where a cloud floats flying on and on,

a cloud with no weight of its own, all alone.




The Scapegoat II


When the moon is this much bright,

march at intervals of 25 yards.


The shrapnel and duds of 2.7-inch rockets,

of 3.5-inch rockets, of 60-millimeter trench mortars,

of 80-millimeter trench mortars, and other unidentified shells;

overturned objectives and disorderly barbed wire.


Around a singed grave-mound,

across a valley choked with cordite fumes,

treading in the footmarks of comrades-in-arms,

we climbed a slope beyond whch a signal rocket had vanished.


Every moonlit helmet phosphoresces;

ruddy, soft brains in skulls, being lit,

phosphoresce with sizzling sounds;

the eyeballs greeting Orio phosphoresce.


As I fall down flat on dead ground

around the corner from a dead village

where moonlight glints on shattered pieces of chinaware,


the lachrymal gland is a disconnected fuse.





An Unfinished Work with no Title


The rendezvous ends in silence.


You may take it as you like:

my breath touching your cheek

or your breath touching my forehead.

Others may tkae it as they like.

I may take it as I like.


Have we ever been in favour with the grace of logic?

Have we ever been guaranteed the order of action?

What you

called the sun

was no more

than this healthy body raging in the dark.


If you, blockading all your laughter,

sit crouching over like a work by Rodin,

that grandiose meditation will be your salvation.


Every and each one of us is in debt,

who hasn’t come to a conclusion.

He will gain something if he comes to a conclusion.

He will lose something if he comes to a conclusion.


It is cowardice

to answer after thinking.

It is cowardice

to think after answering.


O the shining body,

the sun of each other;

O no, O no,

Ah well. . .

The rendezvous ends in silence.



for the fatherland

and a salary.





Pak Seong-yeong

(1932 - )



Pak Seong-yeong was born in 1932 in Haenam, South Jeolla Province. After attending high school in Gwangju, he entered the English Department of Jungang University in Seoul, but he left university in 1956 without completing the course. In the same year he made his debut as a writer with two poems published in Munhak Yesul (The Literary Art) through the recommendation of Yi Han-jik. He worked as a reporter for a numbr of magazines and newspapers before 1972, when he joined Seoul Shinmun (The Seoul Daily News), where he held a post as subeditor.

Pak Seong-yeong has published several volumes of poetry and one collection of essays. He has received a number of awards, including the New Writer’s Award from Hyondae Munhak (The Modern Literature) in 1964, the Shimunhak (The Poetic Literature) Award in 1982, the Honam Literature Prize in 1986, and the Korean PEN Award in 1989.




On Top of a Mountain


The grey landscape stretches below,

Beyond an expanse of foggy rain.


Upon this height I can caress softly with my hand

The world that I left down there.


Somewhere in the air, I hear the great rocks vibrate:

I hear, all around, the mountains, hand in hand,


Sitting or standing, repeat some ancient,

Earthy tales in deep, low tones.


The grey streets stretch below,

Beyond an expanse of foggy rain.


Gently I caress, softly, softly with my hand,

The world down there:


The thick forest of windows, the steep crags of walls.




The Fruit Tree


Nothing astonishes me more than the fact

That ripe fruit hangs upon a fruit tree.


Rooted in the reddish yellow barren earth

And swaying its branches in mere wind and rain,


That tree alone comes to enjoy the grace of rapturous

Colour and weight in this shearing autumn of all seasons.


Nothing, indeed, astonishes me more than the fact

That ripe fruit hangs upon a fruit tree.


Often in the autumn of a year yielding no poetry,

I recover my vision before this miracle of the fruit tree.




White Magnolia


Not so much lamps that will ever be on

as ones that know when to be off--

the white magnolia flowers that have been lit for several days

are falling quietly

in a corner of my garden today.

In these glorious spring days that I while away,

almost holding my breath--for only a few days,

whenever I step out of my entrance in the morning,

their lamps have shed cool light on my forehead;

but today they have become aching flesh,

falling and scattering

in a corner of my garden.




At Summer’s End


Late in this night near summer’s end,

the roll of thunder that has shaken heaven and earth

seems to be receding beyond the ridges of the mountains,

like drops of sweat evaporating from our foreheads.


So past midnight

and into the weary hours of dawn,

I should strive to overcome drowsiness

in order to hear the stirring songs

of insects which herald the coming of autumn to this land.


Some are meant to sound with the melancholic sheen

of silk threads, some with the clicking sound

of a pair of rusty scissors and some,


as if caught in a fine gossamer;

but they have already formed in some places

deep wells and in others

the ringing of icy streams.


Late in this night near summer’s end,

I shall stay awake till the roll of thunder

has receded beyond the mountain range

and the stirring songs of insects have flown into river or sea;

Only then shall I fall asleep in the clear morning of autumn.


I shall fall asleep

in that autumn morning

when the whole world is as clear as a wine glass.




An Extra Drop of God


I am an extra drop

of God.


I am grateful to Him

for having dropped it

on this weary land of Korea,

of all lands.


I am grateful to Heaven and earth

that I am the last drop of God

dropped on the impoverished village

of Land’s End in Haenam,

of all the Korean Peninsula,


ever burdened with a troubled history,

but proud of an unbroken lineage of blood.

I was merely a bubble

of that poor seaside village

or a dewdrop settled in a furrow

of the green barley field

on that upland of yellow earth;

but I am grateful

that I am an extra drop of God.


Huh Man-ha

(1932 - )


Huh Man-ha was born in Daegu in 1932. He studied medicine at Gyeongbuk University and served in the army as a medical officer for some years. After acquiring a doctorate in pathology, he worked at hospitals and taught at universities in Busan. It was in 1957, the year he graduated from university, that he made his debut as a poet. His early poems were collected in a volume, Haecho (Algae), published in 1969, while his idiosyncratic essays on poetry and fine arts have appeared in two volumes. Some of his poems and essays have been translated and published in Japan.



Neanderthal Man


While innumerable specimens of twentieth-century Homo Sapiens

drift down, shouting and jostling,

towards the black-blue Arctic Ocean at night,

a dumb animal droops its head

in loneliness rising like thick fog

among the crowds like billions of sea-gulls.

Alas! I am a lonely Neanderthal Man

who has somehow survived at the edge of a diluvial mass of ice.

Those who survived were all weeping,

their heads turned west on the summit of death,

weeping with their eyes blind.

Their cheeks lit with the evening glow were drenched in tears,

as if at the sunrise of wonder watched by the first of mankind

out of the last dusk where all had perished, who once had watched

the enormous orb of fire in its incandescent mist.

The Neanderthal Man once roamed over the old continent growing dark,

chasing after deer with splinters of quartz;

the beast-like man who fought a mammoth barehanded.

O the Neanderthal Man with his narrow forehead,

who chuckled, baring his yellow teeth,

who would copulate up on the rocky slopes.

You were a god yourself, without knowing what a god was.

The Neanderthal Man of half a million years ago,

who climbed on the metaphysical vertex of the fourth glacial epoch,

well beyond any ragged human ethics,

desperately shouting, ‘I will not die.’




Tongjom Station


The silver surface of the rocky mountain

looms close like angry teeth;

the black water runs slow through the ravine,

biting the foot of the steep precipice;

and onto its shore clings precariously

an infinitely quiet railway station.

There a few shacks selling packs of low-quality cigarettes

and bowls of grog prostrate themselves like tributaries;

a woman with an exhausted face carries on her back

a child coughing incessantly

and pale people leaving their homes

hurriedly go through the platform wicket.

There you stand, ah, the first station into the Kangwon Province coalfields.,

looking very much like the innocent Ainu race in flight.


One afternoon when the distant border mountains

tremble with a presentiment of the first snow,

I shall aimlessly set out on a journey, holding

the hand of an ailing daughter of mine

through sunlight falling like grains of snow.

Even after I have left, fingering the strawboard train ticket

smelling sweet like humaneness,

or trudging like an elephant crossing the jungle,

resolutely searching for its own burial ground,

you, Tongjom Station, small as a match box,

will be breathing faintly like an oppressed nation

in the depth of living, blotted out of memory.

As even after the annihilation of mankind long hence,

the earth will go on orbiting through the vastness of space,

carrying a few memories of nihility,

so your signal will keep lifting its purposeless arm.




A Dancer


Beating the castanets, she steps forward,

lifting her arms,

shaking the weathered hillside,


A cloth of flame, she drops,

bending from the waist, sweeps the ground.


The Spanish dancer keeps her feet

only by assuming a lonely centrifugal force,

turning on herself

in the colour of an early winter sky;


only by assuming

the shape of a desolate wind that dies,

balancing herself on the axis

of her own nothingness.




Lonely Embrace


What I embrace is your darkness. What I lick is its bleeding wounds. I grope in woods replete with the smell of grass. The motif of sorrow trembling like the murky orange-coloured street-lamps in The Hague wet in the winter rain.


The avalanche of my hand sliding down your flowing hair. At dawn, you lie beside me like a rustling field of reeds. Like Dunchi Island in the Naktong River estuary. Christine on her hunkers, dropping her face on her hands. The sad naked body seen through the veil. The dazzling back of winter flowing down from her nape.


The shivering light of water shimmering beyond the reeds!





An Unfinished Self-Portrait

-- Van Gogh’s eye 7


Not that I mix pigments, but my palette generates wavering lights. As the bird flies in the sky because there is the word ‘fly’, so I paint for the sake of it. The brush is part of my hand. My eyes concoct an explosive.


I am looking at myself looking at myself. I stand naked, having divested myself like a winter tree of all that is not my own. Only anguish is mine. The great distance between me and myself in the mirror.

I have come to Auvers-sur-Oise, enchanted by the lake where the woods stand upside down and by the wet fog, and ‘from going up and down in the earth’. The dark blue sky that is spread out by the sound of a gunshot into my left flank saturated by the heat of barley fields in summer. The landscape of self-effacement bleeds quietly. the bleeding nostalgia. My mother tongue. Chez Hem kan gaan (I can go home). In my eye rims will grow the grass of home. I long for a distant view of Zundert. Like the white sheets Mother washed and dried, I can see the sound of wind hanging on the hedge of oaks. My nostalgia is violent. Wind always comes blowing from the future.


To generate a colour, the world is trembling as night. For a bird to home to its nest, it must wing the dark space between stars. It must wing the vast darkness like an angel at a crisis.




Heo Yeong-cha

(1938 - )


Heo Yeong-cha was born in 1938. She is a professor in the Korean department of Seongshin Women’s University, Seoul. She has published five volumes of poetry and is noted for her delicate lyricism, often inspired by some aspect of Nature.



The White Towel


I wince,

wiping my face with a white towel

in fear

lest my sad and shameful portrait

should be impressed on it.


I wince,

wiping my hands with a white towel

in fear

lest the grime of my shameful life

should smear it.






Where are they now,

those men of thunder and lightning


whose every step awakens

a gust of excitement


and whose whistling, O whose whistling,

bestirs your heart so?


This autumn field

is a ruined kingdom,

guarded by a scarecrow

leaning on a stick


like an old soldier

who has survived alone.




To a Cricket



O cricket,

stop crying, do.


If you go on

sobbing so

deeply grieving


my heart

like ice

will surely crack


my heart

like quartz

will surely break.




The Scourging


Water stinking in the ditch,

back in the sky again,

turns into a lovely cloud.


Worm-eaten leaves

when autumn tints them

flame and glow in dazzling hues.


So life too,

that painful, shameful



seen in distant days

may prove a flowering cumulus?

Or a warm, and dear, pink flame?




Gathering Seeds


In the autumn garden

eager for seeds

I cupped my hands.


Autumn plants, our grey-haired mother,

long surviving from days of old

buffeted by rough winds and rain!


Busily busily

I went

up and down the streets


but on my return I had got


but a shabby, dirty body.


You provided


faithful fruitful golden life!


In the autumn garden

I hoped for seeds from the labours of youth;

my hands have no sense of shame

at all.




A Comb


Destiny is durable,

a fearful thing, as well.


Look, the fine and coarse combs

I used in a previous life


have followed me beyond the grave

as the crescent moon in the sky above,


watching over my heart

lest it become a mess of tangles.




Long Spring Days




can you be only flowers?




can you be only fresh leaves?


On long spring days

a fragrance of


rises even from virulent plagues

and from sin.


sorrowful mistresses

each tiny violet

opens its single eye and gazes up

on long spring days...