Born in Pusan in 1942, Ch'on Yang-hui's career as a poet dates from 1965, when she was introduced in the review Hyondae Munhak (Modern Literature). She only graduated from Ewha Womans University in 1966 and did not publish a complete volume of poems until Shini uridurege mudnundamion (If God Asks Us, 1983); her most recent volume, Yetkolmokkil (An Old Alley), appeared in 1998. In all she has published five volumes. Her work received the tenth Sowol Poetry Award and she also received the 43rd Hyondae Munhak (Modern Literature) Prize.

Even while disclosing her inner self, her poetry escapes from unregulated self- exposure, maintaining the grace of lyrical verse in which the self's agonies are revealed by reflecting on the relationship between the self and the surrounding world. Challenging the inclination found in many poets to break free from the conventional rules of lyricism, her poems stand as examples of the lyric's traditional function. Her poems show an affinity for small, fragile lives, a spirit hidden in her early poems and only vividly revealed as her work developed. Her clear perception of the preciousness of life enables her to create evocations of a peaceful world free from all care. This has been achieved by means of a brilliant harmony of small and lovely lives. Such touches of vitality are the driving force which have enabled the poet to survive bitter experiences, the source of a poetic style marked by noble restraint and elegant refinement.


Mowing Day


As I mow grass I see :

the grasshopper' eyes are dark.

It's the wood's fault, pitch-black in broad daylight.

The wind draws it off to the mountain top.


Whenever I stand idle in the field my toes curl.


I roll up a few clumps of my heart's grass. I am being kept alive

by composted leaves, by nameless sprouting weeds. A blade of grass

clumsily grasped may cut your finger, you say?

There's so much in life to be cut by.

Tears gather in my glazing eyes. I give a long tug

at the field's edge. A rill runs brimming, and plovers

mount clamorously. They climb and climb, yet the sky is ever above.


Whenever I stand idle in the field my toes curl.


As I mow grass I see :

from a single root many branches grow.

Though the earth is one, paths have many branches.

The undergrowth settles in my heart.

Large as a sprouting plant, a life stirs.

Hold on to me, grass.

I will draw you with me as I rise.





Black Port 


The tavern's red lamp bobs hoarse as if damp

and under the breakwater waves whimper all day long.

Because of the ever-changing waterways, or because of people,

the road that curves toward the port touches the village.

That road curving toward the port touches the village.

No one can ever take that road.

Now the sound of the water grows deeper

and a dog can be heard barking somewhere :

living like a dog, some evenings I long to howl like a dog.

Is it saying that someone is thrusting its world away?

Or, spinning about a flowerbed, that there's another place where the flowers long to bloom?

Looking back, I have transferred my whole day here.

Past the house with balsam flowers, past snapdragon flowers, past dandelion flowers,

past flowers of grief, past flowers of tears... flowers too have wounds...

for wounds are flowers!

Spreading all over the village, fearful flower colors,

and wandering among them clusters of drifting clouds:

perhaps it will rain tomorrow?

In one direction the sky is all black





Asking Water the Way

Water Grasses


Someone said : being like water is best.

So I decided to live in the water.

I lived in the water, consuming only water every day.

It was no easy thing, living only on water.

Clouds of spray went soaring high, spouting water

while waves lapped and swirled around.

If someone ever threw a pebble,

the ripples would reach me.

Then the sound of the water changed and the waves grew higher.

At that I thought of the minnows in the pools

and recalled the salmon too.

I suddenly glimpsed the weeds at the water? edge.

They were wet with sleet and shivering in the wind.

Some lives were not like water.

The hardest thing in the world was living like water.

Only then did I understand that difficult things might also be good.

Living on nothing but water was not at all the same as living like water.

The longer you live on nothing but water, the higher life forces the waves.

Today I dive into the water again.

Longing to flow like water, longing to flow like water.





Fastening Buttons


Fastening buttons, you realize.

That the world's not fastened right.

That fastening buttons

is not just a matter of buttons.

Fastening buttons, you realize.

That wrongly fastened first button, first love, first marriage, first failure...

On nights of regret

after wronging someone,

a wrongly fastened button

shows us what we did wrong.

Yes, indeed, living

is like looking for the holes for the buttons on clothes.

Fastening buttons you realize.

How easy it is to fasten buttons wrongly.

How hard it is even to put on clothes.





Sandybrook Bus Terminus




Late autumn rain falls, the day ends early.

The trees lining the street stand bare, complain of the cold.

The last bus is just arriving at the Sandybrook terminus.

The late evening sky is dark and deep. The wind comes gusting,

piercing to the very bones. Labor done, a few people

get off the last bus. The tip of a dry branch sways in the wind.

To it the world is climbing to the branch's tip. And slipping back.

The world complains it's too slippery.

What? If cold air is overturned, warm air results?

The yard in front of the station is desolate. One old drunk

disappears, waddling like a goose.'A bird flew over the cuckoo's nest.'

What? A bird! Movies? Ridiculous,

crumbling to pieces even in the dim lamplight,

the glittering sands and sandbanks of times past :

is someone trying to tear his breast open with bare hands?

Waterlight can never conceive

that this world has tears clearer than water.

There, the sandy brookside people who live embracing sandbanks

as if eager to uncover the depths of their sand :

all that remains in the net of the ground, caught in the water, is sand.

The night flows past like water. Sitting on the sand

I listen all night long to nodding Sandybrook, to its wheezing sounds.

Standing at the far end of the bus terminus.



Note: Sandybrook and Waterlight are English place-mames corresponding to Moraenae and Susaek, two neighborhoods in western Seoul whose names the poet plays with in this poem.