Kim Gwang-Gyun was born in Gaeseong, Hwanghaedo, on January 19, 1914. He died in 1993. His work began to appear while he was still in his teens and came to be published in several collections of poetry, including Wasadeung (Tile Shade Lamp, 1969) and Chupungkwiu (Ghostly Rain in the Autumn Wind, 1986). As revealed in the five poems translated here, Kim is remarkable for his evocative lyric images and pictorial vignettes. Thus the first poem begins: "On their seaside gallery, / Silent anemone buds doze in the breeeze" and the fourth poem ends: "Forlom stone road - / Pasture flags and crab apple trees that one wiff will snuff out." As this second citation exemplifies, Kim deftly fuses personal feelings with a scene from nature in the Chinese and Korean poetic tradition. Nonetheless, in his poetics he is included among the "modernist poets" of the first part of the century. At times, he employs modern images such as the "telegraph poles" that begin the fourth poem; and he evokes a contemporary scene in the third poem, "Writing Poetry is Now Useless."

In his poetic tone, Kim is included among the Korean intellectuals of the Japanese colonial times, with whom melancholy brooding had become a habit. We find this tone running throughout most of the present poems. Unfortunately, the feelings they evoke seem somewhat limited in their appeal to non-Korean readers and perhaps are also not so accessible to the present-day generation of young Koreans. Still, the longing for the home-town reflected in the second and fifth poems below remains a perennial Korean nostalgia whose appeal is at the same time universal.





Afternoon Sketch


On their seaside gallery,

Silent anemone buds doze in the breeze.

Outside winter panes glazed by driving snow

The white foam traces of the waves rush in,

Murmuring soft bits of song.


Once again at two, the roof clock

Trails a white whistle, and

Drawn into my lone afternoon gaze,

Flags on the northern sea-route

Cut a blinding arc and flicker across the far-off coast.


A ship sows roses all along the waterway.

A small steamboat, returning at dust, anchors at the pier.


The wings of a gull floating above a rusty mast

Sketch a stave of music

In desolate, washed-out tones.


When the winds howl and,

Heart choked by hazy sunlight

seeping through dark curtains,

I raise gaunt arms and lower the window,

There's only the light of a lone star

above a white wall of memories

And, eyes closed, the desolate sound in my heart

of the waves.








When the hours began to drag, we would

Climb the dusk-shrouded hill

And chatter away, trumpeting our thoughts

To the darkening sky.


The school roof could be seen

In the gathering mist beneath our feet,

And in the old tree in front of the village,

Evening magpies cawed.


When, one by one, the evening stars came out,

We would shoulder our trumpets

And whistle our way down the hill.


The wind moaned in the dark oak grove at our backs,

And the new grass sprouting along the path

Was drenched with evening dew.






Writing Poetry Is Now Useless


Are the night insects chirping away also

On the steep slopes of Chuan Cemetery?

You're dead, your body gathering rust there.

I'm alive, gazing at the moon.


The chatter of old friends over a drink

In the drought-infested streets of Seoul

Sears the heart.

You're seat is empty.

Shall we meet in a tavern near Wo˘¨lmido,

Or back in America at our Harlem dorm?

Shall I throw open the door in surprise

Though I know you are there?

As the summer moon breaks free of the eves

Of your favorite evening haunt,

I smoke mindlessly alone

In the chilly breeze of the rear porch.

Where have you gone at your jaunty pace,

Translation drafts of Richard Wright under your arm?

Forgetting our plans to visit Kanghwa Island

When the azaleas are in bloom,

Are you drinking beer with your beloved Jonson, Brown, and Taylor

And, there in the beyond, writing Black poetry?

It's been twenty days since we buried you

On the mud flats of Inchon,

The death site of so many youth since liberation,

And writing poetry is now useless.


Note : Chuan, Wo˘¨lmido, and Kangwha are places in or near the port city of Inchon.







Telegraph poles tilt one after another

Across the incense glow of twilight


And night spreads over the far-off mountains


The clouds¦ˇ

Bouquets of roses

Splashed on purple paper


Forlorn stone road¦ˇ

Pasture flags and crab apple trees

that one whiff will snuff out.






Near a Lake of Stars



The tin moon drops on the horizon,

And the sound of splintering ice

Filters up the sleeves like shrill piping.


When the shoals of sea-clear night winds alighting on the brow

Saunter alone along the strand,

The lake, like the silver sand glowing in the twilight,


Becomes a gorgeous bed of flowers,

And frosted shards of ice bloom with blinding radiance

On branch after branch of withered memories.



The river froze long and fast¦ˇ

The old hometown's a belt,


The distant dark glow

Clouding the car window

Spreads faint wings of childhood nostalgia.