Farmers' Dance by Shin Kyong-Nim
A bilingual edition published by DapGae (Seoul) and Cornell East Asia Series. 1999.

Translated by Brother Anthony of Taize and Young-Moo Kim

(The poems that follow are taken from the last two sections of Nong-mu.)

Night Bird

I woke from a dream where I was being
pursued by a bier round zelkova tree.
Suddenly I heard a bird sing.

Wake up now, mistreated wretch.
Open your lips, downtrodden wretch.

Flying carefully through a lowering sky
with not a spare inch for so many resentful ghosts,

that night bird sobs so sadly.
One boy sobs sadly, too, pitifully
clinging to the back of the bier.

The River

The raindrops sob and weep.
Weeping, they pierce the muddy ground.
The children are avoiding the raindrops.
Weeping, they roam about in the river.

Could the river forget that sound of weeping?
Could it forget the sound of guns and cries?
Could it forget those tiny fists and little bare feet?

The wind sobs and weeps.
Weeping, it goes swirling over the river.
The children go wandering after the wind.
Weeping, they wander in the falling rain.


A Legend

He was always drinking,
he went mad, grew rowdy,
then finally the rascal died.

Up the mountain road running past
the village where I was born and bred
is an old tree that's a spirit shrine

with red and yellow strips of rag
He became a ghost, squatting there cross-legged.

On summer nights all thick with mist
in bitterness, in bitterness
that rascal wept.

In bitterness, in bitterness,
the old tree also weeps. That rascal
has come to life again, squatting there cross-legged.


What We Have to be Ashamed of

It's not only the stench of muddy alleys.
It's not only petty slanging matches and fist-fights.
What we have to be ashamed of
is not only this deep poverty.
It's not only the darkness that almost never lifts.

When August comes we may be elated but
sitting on our creaky office chairs
or on a narrow bench in a soju bar
we clench fists about some boring baseball match
played abroad, nothing to do with us at all,
let some crazy missionary work us into a frenzy,
get excited about tall tales told by an economist
from some underdeveloped country,
but it's not only these kinds of things
that we have to be ashamed of.

It's not only this lily-livered kind of false merriment,
it's not only our two fists shrivelled up with fear.
What we have to be ashamed of
is not only the wild way we cheat and get cheated.
It's not only the darkness that hides heaven itself.


In the Dark

A stench of blood arose in the falling rain.
And sobbing could be heard in the wind.
It was summer yet the streets were frozen white,
folks shut their gates, shuddered hidden indoors.

Could all those past deaths have been in vain?
That year's bloodstains could still be seen on grass and rocks
up in the hills where I had taken the kids.
Deep at night all the grieving spirits would wake
and fill the dark valley with their keening laments.

Tell me, friend, what am I so afraid of?
I was so anxious that I woke the kid to go for a piss,
and recalled vividly the last shot in Pere Lachaise
Cemetery. My eye shouted: Look, look!

My ear screamed: Listen, listen,
to the very first empty stillness
but I felt ashamed to admit that I knew
the tales entangled in that mountain valley.

We buried our friend in the lee of a rock
then scrubbed and wiped our muddy hands
wondering if really all those past deaths had been in vain,
that had taught us just how strong we were?

In this summer night loud with the keening of blood
in flowers, yes, and in dewdrops, too,
tell me friend, what am I so afraid of?