Kim Chang-ho

Kim Chang-ho was born in Pusan in 1929. Drafted to work in Japan during the last years of the war, he was a poet already particularly experienced in life before becoming first, in 1953, a lecturer at Dongkuk and Kyongki Universities, then professor at Inch'on Education College, and finally professor at Dongkuk University; he is today an emeritus professor of Dongkuk University. In 1952 he collaborated with two other poets to produce Siganp'yo opnun chongkojang, and later produced seven volumes of poetry, to say nothing of volumes of essays, poetic drama, translated poetry, etc.. In addition he has published two volumes in which he discusses Korean poetry, and a volume on Greek drama.

He has written: "If poetry is the action bringing the poet redemption from his own ultimate solitude, then the crisis of poetry can only be redeemed in a poetic act that restores reality as pure creation". This is a direct indication of his own poetic activity. He rejects the lyricism of traditional Korean poetry stressing instead that intellectual analysis and action are imposed on reality.

By following a clear line of ideas, his poems express the true aspects of real life and human destiny. As a result, his poems consider everything to do with human life from one particular viewpoint, seemingly developing it into a narrative, and then dividing it again by means of stanzas. Therefore his poems are prosaic rather than lyrical; at certain moments, they are not unconnected with verse drama.

An Animal's Trail

When you are following an animal's trail,
it is very easy to lose the track.

Traces calmly printed
as it went prowling
in the vast world of the snow-bound hills
scrutinizing the opposite slopes

tracks sinking deep
as if it had suddenly turned, startled by something,
the distance narrowing

or huge footprints
suggesting it stood contemplating the hills
stealthily on the very brink of some cliff.

By the power of that fresh leading
I forget the human rags I wear
and go racing ahead with nostrils quivering

but then the track abruptly vanishes
beside some rock or behind a tree stump.

Perhaps that animal's trail was not my trail?
There is no trace of the form or footprints
of the animal hitherto preceding me.

Going astray in pursuit of an idea,
distracted at discovering a text,
rooted motionless day after day

on a ridge where a thing of great value flutters
I encounter frustration, neither man nor beast.

An Animal's Tracks

Easy to spot a hare's tracks,
not powerfully advancing prints
but lightly superimposed,

the two front paws placed neatly, while behind
the rear paws overlap.

Perhaps because of its supple form
just setting down tips of toes lightly in passing:
foot-prints of a weasel, a badger, or a lynx.

Overlying those, piercing the snowy mass
so deeply we can guess its weight,
firmly pressing down each foot fully as it went,
the footprints of some large animal
printed like rice-cake patterns, or the palm-prints
on the calligraphy An Chung-kun did in prison.

When I come across an animal's tracks
up in the snowy hills,
my initial response is a sense of alarm.

Secretly, harshly,
distracted nearly right out of this world
I utter a startled cry.

A sense of having been caught red-handed,
a feeling as if someone is observing me
somewhere behind my back,

Inside me a wild animal roars.

In Snowy Hills

Snow is falling.
In empty hills under a darkening sky.

In the gradually gradually falling
mounting snow trees buried to the knee
stand motionless.

The only sound that of branches breaking
occasionally, the woods are desolate,
no regrets for past days,
and no fear for the future.

I seem to hear footsteps,
but on turning, nothing, only something like
a landscape in the other world.

If I stay here motionless, I feel
I will fade away until I become a tree,
and finally just a peaceful picture.

Every time I move, freeing each foot
laboriously, laboriously,
I seem to be there
and then not there
on the screen of a magic-lantern show....

Is this dream or reality? Veiled by snowflakes
here at this moment
from one tree another tree cannot be seen.


It may be because
I feel sorry for something

Reaching a rock cliff
with every footprint irrevocable
and in every footprint, that may be the last,

hanging up texts still unfinished,
though on and on I go, and
clumsy love and
always disappointing drinking bouts with dearest friends,

as on that day I fell into the sea as I rushed about
raising everything depending on me an inch above my head

hanging this occupation I enjoy
likewise at the end of a rope:
why do I suddenly think like this just now?

Like the time when I swam in the amniotic fluid
crossing the threshold between that world and this
with an umbilical cord attached to my body,

with this world within me
and that world of course within me
only that cannot be, is that what it is?

A Mountain of Shoes

Did they take them off
or were they taken off afterwards?
That mountain of shoes at
Nazi Germany's Auschwitz concentration camp.

Perhaps they took off their shoes for themselves first,
so that they could go flying straight to heaven
from the gas chamber
like someone leaping into a stream.
That's the way to think.

The mound of corpses all burned up without a trace
the leather shoes are embarrassing.
If they were taken off afterwards,
how ignominious the Nazis' actions were.

If they wanted to go flying lightly up to heaven
out of the Nazis' power, where even shoes felt heavy,
with wings under their arms:
that gives a child's painting like one by Chagall.

But if it was not so, if they intended to abolish
everything in the whole world without exception,
the painting that yields is "Guernica," instead.

Whichever way it may be,
the only things left are the shoes.

Translated by Brother Anthony of Taize