Chong Chi-yong was born in Ch'ungchong Province in 1902, the oldest son of a dealer in Chinese medicine. Chi-yong was raised in the Catholic faith and according to the custom of the time was married when he was only twelve years old. He knew poverty as a child, but through the graces of a benefactor was able to attend Hwimun Secondary School in Seoul. With his school comrades, he there began his poetic activities. He also took part in a protest movement within the school, for which he was temporarily suspended. Upon graduation in 1922, he went to Japan to do university studies in English Literature, writing a thesis on William Blake.  
Chong may have published a couple of poems in 1922 or 1923, but he began publishing in earnest in 1926 at the age of twenty-five. Upon returning to Korea after graduation in 1929, he began teaching English at his high-school alma mater. He continued in this position until the end of the Japanese occupation and World Was 弗 in 1945, all the while continuing to publish poetry. During various periods between 1945 and 1950, he taught Korean Language, English Poetry, and Latin at Ewha Women's University, lectured on the Chinese Book of Poetry at Seoul National University, and worked for a Catholic publication, the Kyongyang Newspaper. In 1950, Chong disappeared. It seems he was kidnapped and taken to the Communist north; so the publication of his poems in the southern part of Korea was banned until the end of 1987.  
Chong Chi-yong's poems breathe the air of the village, sea, and mountains of the Korean peninsula. They express attitudes which Koreans have long treasured as their own; a loving closeness to nature and other human beings, an appreciation of truths implicit in the heart's endless longing; a fondness for playful humor and childlike wonder; a tendency toward indirectness and ambiguity; and a predilection for drawing beauty out of the commonplace. Typically Korean but not at all exotic, Chong's countryside has a more authentic rural feel than the masked paternalism of the American poet Robert Frost; but like Frost, Chong draws the reader into a particular locale whose horizons are universal. Not exclusively Korean or rural, the affection, longing, humor, and wonder that characterize Chong's work are rooted in commonplaces of the human heart.  


Brazier coals blooming to a  
    lovely rose-like blaze式  
Dry grass kindled on the First Day of Spring  
    scents the night.  

When I split a pomegranate  
    that got past the dead of winter  
And taste, one by one, the ruby-like beads,  

Diaphanous thoughts of old,  
    rainbows of new cares,  
Goldfish-like, tender, childlike sensations!  

The fruit must have ripened last lunar October,  
When the little story of the two of us began.  

Little Miss slender comrade,  
A pair of jade rabbits3 secretly nestling,  
    drowsing at your breast.  

Fingers, white-fish fingers  
    swimming in an ancient pond,  
Threads, silver threads,  
    fluttering freely, lonely, and light-  

Holding to the light  
    bead after bead of pomegranate seed,  
Dreaming of Shilla's4 thousand years of blue sky.  


Shoulders round,  
Lush hair-braid trailing,  
Bred in the mountains,  
Forehead white as an egg.  

In black padded socks  
    patched white at heel and toe,  
Hands frozen red like mountain berries,  
She plows through a path of snow  
To draw water tapped from stone crannies.  

As a strand of blue smoke rises,  
The roof glows warm in the sunshine;  
And again, in the snow,  
The virgin gives off the fresh green scent  
    of midway up a parasol tree  

Sitting bashfully turned,  
    an out-of season wayfarer,  
She casts the image of her face  
    in the gathering steam  
And takes a peek at spring water  
    that in between the stones  
        is strangely like the sky.  


You say you are coming式  
Just how will you come?  

Like the grape-dark night surging in  
To the sound of an endless cry  
  that embraces the sea式  
Is that how you'll come?  

You say you are coming式  
Just how will you come?  

Like an ashen silver giant from  
   a forlorn isle across the sea,  
Swooping down on a day fierce with wind式  
Is that how you'll come?  

You say you are coming式  
Just how will you come?  

When outside the window  
   sparrows' eyes droop  
And inside, chin in hands,  
 I'm crushed with care......  
Like the dawn moon, round like  
a silver door pull,  
Doffing a veil tinged with shame式  
Is that how you'll come?  


A lonely soul  
All day long  

Calls to the sea式  

Over the sea  
Comes walking.  


White clouds  
The scented winds  
Are full.  
Seaweed abounds;  
shellfish get plump;  
And ah! the tangy sea式  
Like essence of ginger.  
Spying now a  
Blade-like shark,  
We rush to the bow.  
In tatters, the red sail flutters.  
The arm's full thrust!  
Spear-tip right on!  


Can you catch a mermaid  
And make her your wife?  

On a night like this,  
    the moon so wan,  
Roaming the sea's warm depths....  

Can you become a grasslike ghost  
And appear just bare bones?  

On a night like this,  
    the moon so wan,  
Riding a balloon  
And floating, floating  
    toward a pollen-strewn sky...  
In a tree's empty shade,  
I converse with my flute,  
    just we two together.  


A day  
Without a redwing  

Frozen boughs hung with icicles  
Are pierced by the sagging sky.  

On the old pond式  
     not even a sunken star式  
Withered lotus stems  
     moan in the wind.  

In far-off fields,  
No grass fires rise.  

After the landscape,  
Has gone all away,  

At my window  
Again comes the dark,  
Lovely like vapor.  


The ivy  
Turns color;  

The chipmunk's tail,  
A lush dark.  

Autumn path  
High in the mountains....  

Right above the brow,  
The sun itself is fragrant.  


White fields  

Birch slip off  
Their outward show;  

And billowing clouds  
Asleep by the flowers  

Feel empty  
In the breeze. 


The closer you get to the top, the more worn away are the cornflowers. Climb one ridge, and the waists disappear; up another ridge, the necks are gone; and after that, just faces peep out, like a flowered print. Where the wind's cold vies with the tip of Hamgyong Province,2 cornflowers have no height at all. Yet they abound for a while in August like scattered stars. When mountain shadows darken, stars light up as well in the cornflower fields, moving with their constellations. I'm here, exhausted.  

I moisten my throat with the pretty pill-like fruit of the crowberry and get up, refreshed.  

White birch live beside white birch till they's skeletons. Like birch, my whiteness when dead will not be unscarred.  

On a mountain spur too desolate even for ghosts, lone flowering beggar-ticks blanch with fear even in broad day.  

At almost 6,000 feet, horses and cattle live without a thought of humans. Horses with horses, cows with cows, colts after mother cows, calves after mother horses-all follow one another, promptly to part.  

The cow had an awfully hard time giving birth to its first calf. In a moment of bewilderment, she turned down a mountain path for a hundred ri3 and ran off for Sogwip'o.4 Still not dry and its mother gone, the calf cried "ma-a, ma-a." Horses, mountaineers-it clung to them at random. I cried to think that our brood, too, might be left to a mother whose coat has a different hue.  

The scent of wind orchids, the sound of orioles calling back and forth, whistling Cheju warblers, water tumbling off rocks, the swish of eddying winds as the sea crumples in the distance.... I go astray among ash, camellia, and oak, only to find myself once again on a winding path packed with white stones and crawling with arrowroot vines. A dappled horse, all at once right before me, doesn't budge!  

Fern, todok5 sprouts, bellflowers, asters, rain-hat shoots, bamboo grass, mushrooms, high mountain plants that dangle starlike bells-etching them in my heart, drunk with them, I sleep. The procession that forms above the mountain range in yearning for the plain water of Paengnok Lake is more stately than the clouds. Caught in a mat of rain, dried out in a rainbow,6 and flower juice worked into the rump, my flesh swells.  

In the blue water of Paengnok Lake, where not even crayfish crawl, the sky revolves. Past my legs nearly crippled with fatigue, acow makes a detour and goes its way. With the mere hint of thread-like clouds chased this way, Paengnok Lake blurs. Folded towards my face the whole day long, Paengnok Lake is desolate. Waking and drowsing, I've forgot even to pray.  


A mountain of stone without a quiver of grass, winding as a mass through twelve ravines! A cold sky covers each ravine; and, ice frozen firm, stepping stones seem safe. I set my feet in tracks trod by scrambling pheasants and tramping bears. The water chirps like crickets! In the flickering sunlight, snow settles on snow. White fringes draw breath, crushed beneath white fringes. Settling throughout the mountain, won't the profusion of fringes get hurt? I fling myself down upon a hazy cliff site once shadowed red with azaleas! 

Translated by Daniel Kister. He is Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Sogang University, Seoul, Korea.