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



Nightingale  (1948)



A whispered secret



Suni! Yongi! And Nam gone to rest!


Open your firmly closed ash-hued gates and come out,

see the flower-buds lingering at the fringes of the sky!


See the unfolding flower-buds cheek to cheek,

at the cozy fringes of the sky, tents woven

with endless silk strands for warp and weft.


Suni! Yongi! And Nam gone to rest!



the flower-buds breathing

at the fringes of the springtime sky, warm as a loving breast.




To a turtle



Turtle, slowly slowly paddling across the stream,

evenly quietly breathing, go ploughing on.

Go, parting with your claws the springtime petals

that drop to the furrowed waters like distant echoes

of secret whispers, then return.


Today my heart has caught fire again,

so that all my face is ablaze.

My speechless limbs are all a-tremble

like those of a new-born grasshopper

as the rays of the setting sun decline.



poke out and flourish your green head under the clouds

and I'll beat my drum,

I'll beat my booming drum, turtle.


Sunset has come for me and my brethren,

purple twilight glimmers on distant hills;

I beg you, though you may be hoarse,

speak one word with the old, age-old voice

of the blood that flows under your thick shell.







Here may be rock's most solid heart, intolerably green. The green heart of rock that can never be ploughed by even the sharpest ploughshare blade.


Here may be the kingdom of heaven. It may be the grieving grieving countryside where grasshoppers sing in tender meadows.


Ah, here is how many thousand leagues away? How many thousands of leagues of hill and sea? How many leagues so dry I cannot cross?


Here may be a dream. A lovely lovely dream with even a tavern set beside a noble lady's tomb.




A flower



A flower has bloomed, sweetly sweetly bathed

in the gasping breath of people long dead.


Their dishevelled hair as it was in those days,

gestures and voices just as they were then:

here the songs of those long dead still remain.


Alas! Now their sound rings above the sky, the songs

those long dead used to sing, with their oily tresses,

each one sweating for heat, then gone for good.


Friend, let's rest before we go, let's rest, then go.

Here, in the shadow of this vast flower newly opened

let's rest, my friend, then go on our way.


Quenching our thirst at each spring we pass,

let's lean our chins on moss-covered stones

and gaze at the sky: one slip and we'll not see it again.




The Herdsman's song



For the good of our love

there must be parting, yes, parting.


There must be waves lapping, up and down,

with winds that drive them to and fro.


For our love-longing's good

there must be the blue waters of the Milky Way.


In this lonely place of no return

there must be nothing but one body ablaze!


Dear Lady Weaver, alone here on the sparkling sands

I'll count the blades of grass that sprout,


while high above in the white white clouds

you pass your shuttle in the loom.


Until the seventh month's seventh day returns

and the half-moon hangs, a brow arching in the sky,


I'll pasture my black cow

and you, Lady Weaver, will weave your silken cloth.







The red and green pattern mottling the shell

is the sea's hope, the sea's,

that has seethed alone for thousands of years.


The flowers that unfold till the branches crack

are the wind's hope, the wind's,

that comes and whispers here day after day.


Ah! The revolution now spreading like a flood

across our land with its crimson servitude

is truly heaven's own long-kept hope.




A Song of the Goddess of Mercy

in the Stone Cavern 



Here I have long stood, yearning

with a yearning like that of the tide.


Deep in the cracks between stone and cold stone

under the tangled arrowroot vines

stirs a fresh breath of youth: that still is mine.


Until Time reduces me to useless dust,

for ever returns me to the void, the void,

the waves contained in this swelling heart

and this love: they still are mine.


Days that dawn in the busy wind!

Marvellous Silla buried deep underground!

Flowerlike people buried deep underground!


Oh! If only He would come to birth, come to birth,

that One who loves me more than I,

that One who loves a thousand years, a thousand years,

if only He would come to birth anew in the sunlight,


if only, once born anew in the sunlight

he would drive me away, away into the dark.


I love you. . .  I love you. . .

if only, having once spoken those words to my Love,

if only I could return to the sea!


So I have stood here by Buddha's seated statue,

with a tiny incense sack in my loin,


breathing in and out, as day follows day, 

inside this cold rock,

with a fresh breath of youth, alas, still mine.




An alley



This alley that I frequent day after day.

This alley I step into alone early in the morning,

to which I return gently humming at sunset.


This alley where poor, lonely, waning people

come and go hunched, their eyes to the ground.


The ungrieving blue sky

covers this alley like a sheet,

on the rooftops white gourd flowers bloom;


as if this alley were soon to be swept away,

in every corner grief seeps like a rising tide;

if the wind blows, the shacks just shake in the breeze.


This alley where peddlars live, Palman and Bokdong.

Until I'm old, I'll love this alley,

I'll live in this alley until I die.







The path my love took is speckled with tears.

Playing his flute, he began the long journey

to western realms, where azalea rains fall.

Dressed all in white so neat, so neat,

my love's journey's too long, he'll never return.


I might have tressed shoes or sandals of straw

woven strand by strand with all our sad story.

Cutting off my poor hair with a silver blade,

I might have used that to weave sandals for him.


In the weary night sky, as silk lanterns glow,

a bird sings laments that it cannot contain,

refreshing its voice in the Milky Way's meanders;

eyes closed, intoxicated with its own blood.

My dear, gone to heaven's end alone!




Open the door



Your pale breast grows colder and colder,

though I bathe it with tears, to no avail:

will it gain warmth if I rub it with this flower?


I've prayed and prayed, for nine days and nights,

but your azure breath still flees away:

will it return if I rub it with this flower?


High up in the sky, in the Milky Way,

where pairs of wild geese plough the frost,

ah! that desolate flower-bed, blue and red!


Open the door! I beg you, open the door!

Dearest lord, my love!




Cotton flowers




I cannot help but weep.


Red and white cotton flowers soak meekly

in the azure that pools like well-water,


I suppose you grew them, my dear?


The autumn azure's so taut it would ring at a touch;

there even the rocks are falling, crumbling. . . .


As you passed through drug-like spring,

passed on through senseless summer,

taking tangled short-cuts full of plantains and weeds,

bending your back, did you grow those flowers?




Sister's house



Go ten thousand leagues across the sea,

ten thousand leagues beyond the hills,

if there you climb down, a lamp in your hand,

you'll find a well of water.


If you sink a thousand fathoms down

into the water's inky depths,

there you'll find, like an oyster shell,

a robber's den concealed.


Open the main gate, open the middle gate,

open the gate of stone;

if you turn into wind and slip through the gap,

there you'll find my sister so dear.


The robber's away,

my sister's alone,

sitting in white at her mirror there.




Azure day



This azure day is too bright for our eyes!

How we miss the lover we long for!


See there, there, mellow colours looming

among autumn flowers grown weary of green.


What shall we do when it snows?

What shall we do when spring comes back?


Suppose I die, and you survive!

Suppose you die, and I survive!


This azure day is too bright for our eyes!

How we miss the lover we long for!




Stay at home



Little girl, ah, little girl,

stay at home.


Stay at home

where the dandelions bloom.


Picking plantains,

plaiting sandals,


and gazing at far away mountains

pale beyond yellow bamboo groves.


Despite some grief and sorrows,

little girl, ah, little girl,

stay at home.




Returning to Soguipo



Like a weeping cuckoo that wipes its eyes

in the leaves sprouting so abundantly

high in the hills,


like a west wind, a south wind,

a whirlwind,

like the fish that glide in the ocean flood,


today I'm going to Soguipo.

Limbs swinging, I'm off to Soguipo.


Clouds rise

with every step I take,


wings sprout

in my panting breath,


today I'm going to Soguipo.

I'm off to dear old Soguipo.




A red sky



The river flows westwards,

the wind flows through willow trees,


on a meadow path with fresh flowers blooming

we stand brushing tears away, about to part,

and above our heads the clouds flow by,


your two red cheeks,

your panting breath,

your love, and vows all flow away,


in this autumn dusk adrift with falling leaves

I must watch the red glow of the sky alone.




A little song



What's that you say?

Too near, much too near?

Ah, sky, blue sky,

you're driving me mad!


I, still myself,

never hungry for more,

reaching up,

I'm petrified.




A march



The party's over now.

We sit down to a last dish of broth

as the bright fire burns itself out,

leaving ashes behind.


The awning comes down, look, the darkling sky!

Come on, let's stand up and say goodbye.


At last, just a little bit drunk,

we all become people on their way home:


What a life!

What a life!

What a life!

What a life!


As I batter away, the sound of my chimes drops

into the far-off sea.







Ridiculous! A white dandelion's bloomed.

Under a sky that makes you weep,

tee hee! Silly! hee hee! how droll!


People, like a team of acrobats, in pants

with blood-stained belts around their waists,

are panting away: if ever we're caught, oh dear!


Collapsing in a convenient barley field,

they loose eyes and noses, and frustrated love too,


like liquor, like liquor,

I'll fly up too and become azure in the air.




In Manchuria



My! This is too much sky. If I were to go rushing away, where would I go? It would be easy to go mad here, mad as red cloth. Are there really people returning after a thousand years, ah, a thousand years of pleasure alone?


There is a drum here, rather than a bell. Is that a kind of inevitable extravagance, that cannot be heard from far away? There was no last name to be called, really. How is it that when you see me, when I see you, we cannot help laughing?


Strictly speaking, there was nothing like Harbin City at all. To you and me, there was nothing like that. There was nothing at all, no scent of early peach-blossom, no sound of speaking, no disease.




At nightfall



At nightfall, dear Sook, I remember you. Tiny and neat

as a rocambole corm, I recall every inch of you:

the curve of your brow and eyes, your nose, your waist,

the length of your body, your hair, your neck,

yes, the length of your neck, uniquely slender,

and the sorrowful voice that rang inside it.


Those sorrowful notes, a cuckoo's call in an ancient tongue.

Inside hard stone, over yellow clay fields rang the sound

of still waters, an ancient clock, the hands of that clock.

Day after day the sun rose, ran, and set

on crumbling stones, mother's relics, your red eyes,

leaving red twilight behind and, darker still,

your inner heart. Your hunger.


And cords of yellow straw twisted round

the pine-tree branches high in the grove,

the murky slowly turning clouds, dark clouds,

with inside them a voice calling, calling my name,

repeatedly calling, like the name of a flower:

your death, perhaps?






ah, you too, daughter of those who flee!

Trailing rubber slippers with their black turtle mark,

trailing worn-out slippers over mountain roads,

steep mountain passes where rushes wave, then

you could go any way you chose.

In places all are brought together, travelling third-class,

going on foot, by steamer too,

in Mokpo or Kunsan. Anywhere

somewhere up the countless alleys there

in the monstrous buildings, mushrooming homes,

all those houses with lights clicking on and off,

the Stock Company Limited,

the Public and Private Monetary Fund,

the Evangelical Chapel, a bell ringing for Mass,

obscene whorehouses, the people there, people, people,


and finally, by your suicide. . . .


At the lowest levels of ferro-cement, ferro-cement,

where countless beads, screws, and cog-wheels hang,


maybe in some grim inner room of an employment agent's

you were forced to remove even your underclothes,

those underclothes chaste beneath your skirt.

You clutched and clutched with your ten dark nails,

but at last, in the end, you were forced to go.


Ah, Sook!


The evening breezes sigh in the dark, in the darkness

here inside the wall I hear a thin voice like a cricket's

calling, calling me!

In the central provinces, or far to the south,

in some wretched bar in a rainswept port,

in the depths of my spinal cord, calling me now,

showing two rows of pure white teeth.

The voice of humanity's every wretched last inch.

Like a bell's endless drone, or a telegraph wire.


Like the sea, blue-black, or shouts of acclaim,

like blood,

like blood,


flowing, moist, at the tip of my knife.


Sook! Now I'm through with remembering you;

I'm cleaning the blade of my glistening sword.




Neap tide



Scrabbling through the tidal slime,

catching things like tiny crabs to eat,

shall we go mad at lean yellow neap tide?


The faithful sea waters that had sworn to meet us

came as far as our chins, but alas

the reins were not loosed, we could not go.


As we stand weeping like pillars of fire,

look, an extra toe has sprouted.


Ah! We'll simply choke parched, and sweat,

and set like the sun on the neap tide's steep climb;

we'll never, ah never, meet again.




Travellers' rest



Pursued along side-ways and by-ways,

when I emerge after flailing through brambles,

my legs are torn to a raw red hash,

the stones grow wet with drops of blood. . .


when tears rise since there is no one near

I go dashing onwards at random,

devouring all the tart wild berries my hands can reach.


As I eat wild scarlet-tinged berries in days of wild birdsong, then gaze at the sun,

my sight grows clear.


Let's forget. Let's forget.

Father, mother, and wife, beneath pale paper lanterns,

their mournful customs, their sorrowful speech,

all tossed away like torn white clothes;

now my stomach must resemble some fierce leopard.


Though iron bars enclose me here and there for a time,

when I come out, again the dead, more piercing than ever!

Though they dress me again in thin red clothing,

my hope is a blazing sea beyond red hot desert sands!


I'll go, I'll go on, entrusting to heaven each flower-like age,

every step passing beyond sand-dunes. . .  sand-dunes. . .

where they say vipers' eyes lie buried bright like stars


my heart's desire will ever be lasting joy,

though I lie in some vast flower's shadow,

a skeleton scoured in vain by the purple wind.




Why do I so want to live?

                       - Hanging her basket on an empty branch,

                           where, ah where has my true love gone?

                   (O Il-do)



When nothing at all is possible I think of home.

I recall long-lost shapes that can never return, the forms of things that have vanished like mist.

Voices brush past, whispering faintly in my ears, voices echo ringing from some other, far off world, no single word is clear.


But still I can sense the sound of your breathing. Little girls! where are you resting? I feel my youth being restored by the warmth of your breath.


What was it you once said to me?

In the sky, that is now as it was in the beginning, a skylark draws a slender brush-stroke of blood, then flows away engulfed in clouds, while I strive to grasp the delight of a life I cannot live as I would, standing again before the still tightly closed stone gates of the journey ahead.




I was standing on a sloping road that ran between the barley fields covered by the afternoon shadows of the hills, following behind those four young girls: Sopsopy and Suny, Puchopy and Sunnye. That day, you were wearing bright-coloured blouses, crimson, azure, and white, like the four seas of legends.

From above came the distant sound of a boat-whistle. Sunnae said it was the whistle of God. . . each of the maids bore a basket, bent her back, but they were not really looking for plants, oh no, they were each one intent on that far far off sound. And each bowed her head in a kind of regret.


But it was something that I could not detect. No matter how softly I might tread, it was something that I could not detect.

Only it spread a clear long-lasting fragrance as I kicked at the clumps of dandelion flowers; it hid behind the dog-rose hedge and sped on its way much faster than I. The louder the voice of my calling became, the further it sped away.


Don't come here. . . Don't come here. . .


Laughing softly, it flowed away like a stream, like the four maidens' stream.


One scrap of memory, my two hands held high, for up there in the sky a single skylark. . . that alone remained, as everything flowed quietly away, murmuring. Don't come here. . .   Don't come here. . .




Little girls! the day when I must leave, will you come back again? Will you return, when I must go for ever? Will you pour out happy tears like Mary of Magdala, and wipe my fingertips with your hair?




Why, when I pricked myself on a thorn, in my pain the four of them used to come and stand beside me. When I cut myself on a rose thorn or a shard, in my pain they would come to make it better with mother-like fingers.


When my childhood blood pearled at fingers' ends, if one of them cared the four cared, and strange to say, my scratches would always heal, whether they were rubbed with a yellow flower, with a white flower, or a red!


Lord Chong! my love! Lord Chong!

Your sweetheart has come, so open the door!


If you rub with a red flower

red blood returns,

with an azure flower

azure breath returns.



Little girls! why is the sky so blue when the rain-clouds have gone? Why can I somewhere hear so clearly a sound of breathing? Why do I so want to live? Has my breast been rubbed with some flower?




Standing in a meadow at the foot of a cliff where a few sparse dandelions bloom, a mere soul, I invoke those little girls.

I am sure they have been protecting me. If only this rain falling inside me would stop, if I could only go back and stand again on that sloping road, if only this sickness could quickly be made well: all they were always waiting for, always, on that long-ago barley-field path.




The day when I must leave for ever, will you come back again?