Born in Taegu in 1927, Kim Nam-jo is one of Korea's leading poets. She has published numerous volumes of poetry and essays and has been awarded many major literary prizes. She served for a time as president of the Korean Poets' Association and has long been active in the Korean P.E.N. Center. For almost forty years, until her retirement in 1993, she was professor of Korean Language and Literature at Sukmyong Woman's University in Seoul.

Herself a Catholic, many of her poems are addressed to a mysterious transcendent figure that may or may not be God. Her main themes are love and loneliness. In many poems she depicts the passionate reality of human love and explores the ways in which human love mirrors the love which is the essence of the nature of God. She also suggests by her evocations of intense human solitude that love alone can give meaning to an otherwise desolate human existence.




Majestic Grove


A grove of towering trees three thousand years old,

all winter long a snowy waste, no end in sight,

where those trees

stand tall in the snow-covered expanse.


One winter,

when one of those trees

fell, caught in an avalanche,

the Good Lord

hugged it to his breast.

Softly he bade it:

Rest, my child, rest. . .


The Good Lord


when it had been just a tiny seed

and knew the young avatars

springing up from its enormous roots.


Rest, rest:

that day the Good Lord's love

was a loving consolation.


there were a bird that had sung for three thousand years,

it would sing: Rest, rest.

For after three thousand years, that tree

must have been supremely weary.


That tree,

a member of the redwood species

known as Sequoia,

henceforth a sleeping saint

for the next three thousand years,

will enjoy the most blissful sleep and repose.


In the majestic grove

this winter too

among far-reaching endless snowy wastes.




Foreign flags


There I first glimpsed

such desolate loneliness.


Above the soaring towers of the old castle

at Heidelberg

a flag is waving

like a boat being rowed

like a windmill turning in the wind

waving on and on

until the threads grow thin

then casting away that body like a corpse

they raise a new flag


I wonder

what it's like to be up there all alone

in the sky with the drifting clouds,

what it's like

to be shaking all over, looking down

on the mutability of people and things?


There I first glimpsed

such adult prayer.



Good things


Good things never pass away.

Bitter partings

stolen preciousness

a good man's decease:

only the fact of their existence cannot perish.


Caught in strange light

half veiled in mist

half bathed in sunlight

relations and friends from bygone days

all are gathered together


no distinction between

living and dead

in the Good Lord's book

written by the Good Lord's hand

all equally lovingly listed


a snug night's sleep

an antique desk

a book once read then laid down open

moonlit nights of times gone by

even nearly spoken confessions of love:

all good things

never pass away.

Because a soul nestles

in all the true things

that emerge in human existence.


Mary Magdalene 4


From you

I hear faintly the sound

of nails being hammered through hands and feet.


After the one you loved

had hands and feet pierced with nails

before your very eyes

and died

your body became the shrine

of the sound of nails being hammered,

the echoes of that sound.



is the most powerful thing in all the world.

It is the awful dread

of standing before reiterated suffering.

It is love, you too loving.


Until you have piled up ashes

to form a high mountain

until you have bleached blood

into a river of pure water

All that remains unchanged between heaven and earth

is death and love.


So from you

every dawn and every night the pain

of nails being hammered into Hands and feet

knows no end.




Poem and Reader


If one person in a year

ten people in ten years

if in the course of fifty years of writing

fifty readers

enter into deep communion

with one poet's secret soul


if in one hundred years

one hundred readers

faintly respond

to the living emotion and life-long love

one poet transmits


with true readers increasing

in number as slowly

as a stone growing in size

ah, if only I can flow in their veins

like a stream of hot pure-spirited blood.