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


Selected Poems of So Chong-Ju (1955)



On seeing Mudung Mountain



Poverty? Mere tattered clothing, no more!

How can that conceal our natural flesh, our natural mind?

Those are like mountains in summer, that stand

exposing their dark green ridges under a dazzling sun.


All we can do is raise our children

as the green hills raise orchids in their shady laps.

When the afternoon lengthens

and declining life ebbs drop by drop away,

you husbands and wives

must sometimes sit

and sometimes rather lie side by side.


Then the wife should gaze into her husband's eyes,

the husband lay a hand on his wife's brow.


Though we lie among thorns or in wormwood ditches,

we should always think we're like jewels, buried alone

and at least gather moss thick over us.




The crane



The crane flies on

like a smooth river flowing,

no ripples lapping,

through a thousand years of care.


Eyes that have seen a thousand years,

wings that have beaten a thousand years

strike once again against heaven's end


yet the fury that should be vast as mountains

the sorrow that should make the very trees weep,

just flow on peacefully!


Purple, jade green, crimson red,

purple, jade green, crimson red,

as we inspect our sister's embroidery

let's inspect the world;


as we inspect her embroidered flowers,

gazing over her shoulder,

let's inspect the world.


Tears, like a great tidal wave

or a solemn service for the dead.


Dance? Why, you can dance any time you want!

You have only to bury your head beneath your wing, silent.

Dance? Why, you can dance any drunken moment you want.


Flying closer and closer to the life beyond,

to the heart of the tossing clouds streaming and bending,

as if caressing, caressing,

what can't be done by tears, dancing, or patience?




Beside a chrysanthemum


For one chrysanthemum to bloom

the nightingale

must have wept like that since spring.


For one chrysanthemum to bloom

the thunder

must have rolled like that in sombre clouds


Chrysanthemum! You look like my sister

standing before her mirror, just back

from far away, far away byways of youth,

where she was racked with longing and lack.


For your yellow petals to bloom

the frost must have come down like that last night

and I was not able to get to sleep.







A haze blooms as it rises.

Looking like sorrowful dishevelled love,

delicately trembling, it blooms as it rises.


The haze over Kongdok-dong, blooming as it rises,

looking like the love of someone living in Kongdok-dong.

The haze over Malli-dong, blooming as it rises,

looking like the love of someone living in Malli-dong.


Above the roof of the house where Suni lives

Suni's haze blooms as it rises

and above the roof of the house where Bokdong lives

Bokdong's haze blooms as it rises.


In the room where you embroider, sister,

a haze embroidering,

when your eyes brim with bright tears,

a haze brimming with bright tears blooms as it rises,


when you're thinking, "If only!"

a haze thinking, "If only!"

when you're silently groaning, "Ah!"

a haze silently groaning, "Ah!"


a haze blooms as it rises.

Looking like sorrowful dishevelled love,

delicately trembling, it blooms as it rises.




Fresh green



What ever shall I do?

Ah, I've fallen in love.

In secret, all alone, I've fallen in love!


Everywhere petals are falling;

new verdure is sprouting again

around me on every side.


Writhing in utter grief,

red petals drop and fall;

fluttering fluttering dropping, they fall


like the breath of an ancient Silla girl,

like the hair of an ancient Silla girl,

in the wind in the meadows they drop and fall.


Again this year they scatter before me,

trembling brrr they scatter. . .


Ah, I've fallen in love.

I cannot sing like the warbler's cry

all alone I've fallen in wonderful love




Complaint from a swing


-  Chun-hyang's first monologue



Push hard on the cords of the swing, Hyang-dan,

as if you were launching a boat

out toward distant seas,



as if you were pushing me off for ever

away from this gently rocking willow tree,

these wild flowers like those embroidered on my pillow,

away from these tiny butterflies, these warblers,



Push me up towards the sky,

no coral, no islands there!

Push me up like a tinted cloud!

Push up this pounding heart of mine!


Strive as I may, I cannot go

as the moon goes to the west.


Push me higher and higher still,


like waves pushed up by the wind.




Another bright day


        - Chun-hyang's second monologue



Divine Spirit. . .


At first my heart

was like the haze on days when

myriads of skylarks sing.


It was like clusters of tiny drifting clouds,

or the green ripples of a river

alive with fish bright in shimmering scales.


Divine Spirit. . .


But then, one day you came to me in his form and likeness

and I was transformed into a raging hurricane,

a waterfall hurtling over a cliff,

I became torrents of rain pouring down.


But then, Divine Spirit. . .


You took him away again

like the ocean swallowing a stream,

and in my bright empty heart

you placed the last glimmers of twilight.

With another long night ahead.


Divine Spirit. . .



day is bright above me again,

and my heart's hue is your love,

like bluebells in bloom up mountain valleys.




Chun-hyang's last message


- Chun-hyang's third monologue



Farewell now,

dear lord.


Fare always well, well as that leafy verdant tree

beneath whose shade we stood united

on the day of our first encounter,

the fifth day of the fifth month last.


I am not sure I know where the afterworld lies

but I cannot think it lies farther away

than Chun-hyang's love can reach.


I may flow as black water a thousand fathoms underground,

or waft as a cloud in the fourth heavenly sphere,

isn't that still close to my dearest lord?


When the cloud turns to rain and comes pouring down,

only think: Chun-hyang is sure to be there!




My poetry



It must have been in the spring one year, I wonder when? A long, long time ago.

I was out walking with a relative's wife when we came to a place inside the walls where a camellia tree cast its shade.

While she sat looking as if she knew exactly which portion of the sky had brought those splendid flowers into bloom, regretfully I gathered up the fallen petals that lay strewn over the grass and laid them on the wide spreading folds of her skirt.

I repeated the action over and over again.


Many years have passed since then, and I have written poems, but always with a heart not so very different from the day I gathered up and offered those flowers.


But now, strange to say, it seems there is no one in the world left for me to offer them to.

So the petals that I have gathered up slip softly from my grasp and fall tumbling to the ground, but it is only with such a heart that I can write my poetry.




Beside the melting River Han



The river's thawing,

but I wonder why it's thawing again?

Is it because of some grief or joy of ours,

that the river's thawing again?


Like a wild goose,

like a wild goose in frost-bound midwinter

I longed to be gone, bewailing my life,

and my heart smashed at heaven's heavy mantle of ice.


Why is the river thawing again,

giving me this sunshine and ripples?


Is it telling me to bow my head, to see again

the dandelions, the mugwort and such?


Or is it telling me to stop, to consider once again

the flowered bier passing

beyond the yellow hills,

the gathered throngs of widows?


The river's thawing,

I wonder why it's thawing again?

Is it because of some grief or joy of ours

that the river's thawing again?




In falling snow



It's  --  all  --  right. . .

It's  --  all  --  right. . .

It's  --  all  --  right. . .

It's  --  all  --  right. . .


With the heaping falling snow

a sound of tiny pheasants nestling comes falling. . .

It's alright. . . it's alright. . . it's alright. . .

In the softly falling snow

a sound of rosy-faced maidens nestling comes falling. . .


The sound of them all




carried down frozen blue in the arms of the Fates.


The big ones dropping big tears,

the small ones gurgling little laughs,

busy murmurs of big and small, the sound as they come,

carried down. . .


It's alright. . .

It's alright. . .

It's alright. . .

It's alright. . .


In the endlessly falling snow, the sound of the hills,

the hills, the green hills too being carried down. . .




Kwanghwa Gate



As I walked on, I saw Pugak Hill and Samgak Hill

standing there like brother and sister,

as I walked on, I saw them standing

like a sister peeping over her brother's shoulder,

then all at once I found myself at Kwanghwa Gate.


Kwanghwa-mun! Gateway of Light!

That building's bleak religion!

In time past our people always exalted the light

that drenched them: the head, the whole body, at last

their very slippers' curving tops;

while Kwanghwa-mun is rare indeed,

solemnly bearing on its pinions an azure splendour

overflowing from heaven above.


Above the double roof of the gate's two tiers

the sky is rising brimful, brimming:

what touches the upper roof runs, flows, overflows,

while an attic like a bridal room lies between the two,

so what reaches the lower roof can all come and go there.


Ready for one as lovely as jade

to live in that attic

gathering the sky.


As I slip past the walls with lowered eyes,

the songs heard in the streets sound so ancient, it seems,


and if I suddenly look up, there, above my head,

my heart's  echo trembling and fluttering. . .




Now spring is nearly here



That pine tree is young, as you are young

and in twenty days, the plum trees will bloom.

In humus formed of thousand-year boughs

fresh orchids are rising, smooth and straight.




The second month



Under the new spring sky bamboo groves are bright.

As they murmur murmur murmur in the sunlight,

uttering whispered songs in the sunlight,

pretty sweet young girls grow up.




Work wonders of blossom



Come, Spring, work wonders of blossom in sunlight.

Work wonders of blossom pink and white on every tree.

If I go down to the water with my eyes full of blossom,

petals heap up in my breast.

So work your wonders of blossom in springtime.







The happiest thing of all today is the springtime sunlight shining on the greening of ancient boughs, and the strangeness of fresh blades of grass beneath our walking feet. Children are being taught to utter halting words; they have a way of gazing at us with eyes like those of the children in sacred pictures. They stare at us so casually.




Prayer   I



At this moment I am like an empty jar, utterly empty, like bare plains stretching into the distance. Heaven, I beg you, put in me a terrible storm for a while, or a few fluttering butterflies, or turn me into a pot half-full of water, whatever pleases you. Now I am like a jar that was once full of flowers and scents, but has been emptied out.




Prayer   II



I dreamed last night that I was sitting on a rock beside a pool at the foot of some mountain cliff, and an unknown boy was there with me. Over the pool hung a single persimmon tree, its tart half-ripe fruit dangling above the water.

Heaven! I pray you make my dreams and my waking always be like that!




Sangni Orchard



If I judge by its scent alone, the orchard is a flood as vast as the flow of the River Han, or the upper reaches of the Naktong River. But if I glimpse the flowers' many faces one by one, I find a gale of rapturous laughter, like that of my nieces or my nieces' little friends.

Where else in the whole wide world can you find bodies like these, so gloriously exploding with inborn joy? Every single part of the pear trees, brought here long ago from the West, is adorned with dainty clusters of flowers, not only the head and heart, but the belly and back, and right on down to the heels as well. Every morning and evening, finches, sparrows, shrikes, and warblers, with all their chicks, make themselves the mouthpieces of this huge joy; all day long, hundreds of thousands of honey bees drone their sound like the beating of big and little drums, performing a rite of thankfulness, and it's only natural that now and then some of the untiring throng should burrow down and fall asleep amidst it all.

I wonder what we ought to do, if we are intent on loving all this? Should we lie spread out beneath the trees like the water of ponds, reflecting their beauty, and from time to time receive on our bodies the childlike lightly falling petals? Or should we place ourselves apart from them, in line with the far-off hills, and watch their morning toilet, their daytime dances, and the way they sink down, melting, settling in the twilight?

Confronted by their lack of sorrow, here, where there is nothing to cause sorrow, at least we can learn not to cause our children sorrow by superficiality. Can we find the kind of sorrow we far too often inflict on one another in any shrike, or bee, or butterfly, as they bless the flowers, in any bud or any bloom? Once all the birds have regained their nests in early evening, and night has covered far and wide our children and ourselves, the hills and the streams, we must point out to our children the nearest stars, and let them hear the sound of the oldest bell.




From a diary: at the foot of a mountain



One morning

I suddenly looked with fresh eyes at our ancient mountains. They were just squatting there, as usual; they seemed to have quite forgotten how rough and stupid they were, and the clouds in the sky were all the time clustering and snuggling round them; there was no way I could understand why those clouds were pressing so closely against such repulsive old things.

But as I gazed at the familiar sight of them wooing each other, the next day, and the next day, and the next, I finally realized what it was all about.

It's just like when our young human couples kiss each other's cheeks, and stroke one another's hair; only these gestures have been going on for perhaps several hundred thousand years! As if all that remains of earth's sordid battles has been cleansed and gone soaring up to become clouds, that now for ever flow over a unified jade-coloured space: by their constant gestures of unrestrained longing the clouds have perhaps been consoling the mountains ever since they were young.


That night I heard the sound of a mountain singing in a clear ringing voice. Yes, rising out of a darkness still as if submerged a thousand fathoms beneath the sea, I clearly heard that mountain sing.

It must have been past midnight. It sounded like a song sung softly by a new bride alone, venturing to open her lips only a few weeks after her arrival at her new husband's family home. It was the kind of song that gives a glimpse of flowery fields seen when still a maid, and it brought their fragrance floating by. The mountain sang in a soft deep voice, seeming eager to arouse not just those flowers but even their very roots.




Can anything remain so long unforgotten? Sometimes we hear of a young widow who has stayed intact and chaste, living alone for thirty years or more, still in the bright clothes she wore when first she entered her dead husband's home. But for how many years has each mountain stayed in one place?

A voice as clear as that of waters that grow no older though they endure the fall of countless dynasties: it seems that such a voice can be heard ringing in every mountain.


The next day

there was something which kept attracting my gaze in the bright daylight: the green shade there that seemed to have some secret to tell me. Here and there in the checkered shadows, it was as if grazing things were whispering, glimmering pale and green, then suddenly they were parted by what seemed to be the passing of a vast fragrance and there came thrust towards me a gilded swing bearing a melancholy youth. It seemed there was a desire to make famous, if not the mountain itself, at least its sons and daughters...