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.
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
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.