In autumn, even a tree sheds jewels on the street.
A deeply buried heart may be fetching like this.
Around this time,
A bird shall pilot the life of a fragrant tree,
Crossing the river with a seed in its beak,
Passing the field of silvergrass on a mountain.
My shallow roots,
Which were swayed by no more than rain and wind,
Have you ever borne a piece of ruby hot as blood?
Without a jewel to pass on to a bird or a wind,
I pass in front of a pomegranate tree.
Whether I love or hate,
Life merely flows.
Toward where is life—an initiation ceremony—leading to?
The heart too red to believe in an afterlife,
The heart pecked by the bird!
Joseon*, when I part from you,
Whether you knock me down by a creek
Or yank my blood in the field,
Abuse me more, even my dead corpse.
If this is still not enough,
Then abuse her as much as you can
When someone like me is born henceforth.
Then we, who despise each other, will be parted forever.
Oh, you ferocious place, you ferocious place.
*Joseon (1392-1897) was a dynasty in Korea that preceded the Korean Empire (1897-1910). Even after the fall of the dynasty, its name was frequently used to refer to Korean peninsula.
There was an old soldier
Who plowed a field with his weapon
For he was injured all over from long battles
And thus hated fighting in battles.
But the furrows were unyielding
And the landlord was vicious,
So there was no harvest
Even after sowing and weeding.
So, one day, the old soldier,
Was paralyzed in sleep like a shooting rifle,
Stifled by heavy thoughts.
Oh, how strange—this soldier,
While sleeping after dumping his weapon,
Died with bruises all over his body
As if he fought in his dream.
People turned their heads.
There are battles whether you are awake or asleep,
So being alive and dead must be the same.
Saying so, each of them tensed both arms.
In the Glass Coffin
Today, I withstood agony again,
Because my life is still lingering,
Trapped in scarcely visible sorrow.
If my body is trapped
Like the life of a dinky, dinky thing,
What is with all this sorrow, this pain?
Like the bygone prince,
Who had loved the forbidden woman,
I believed I would live if I danced in the glass coffin;
I heard I would live with joy
Even in this dim sorrow,
If I worked, studied, and loved.
And so I have lived in this untrustworthy world.
Now, what shall I do with this suffocating feeling
That is burgeoning in this scarcely visible sorrow?
Stupid I! Stupid I!
Pomegranate & other poems are © Kim Myeong-sun, these translations are © Sean Jido Ahn
Kim Myeong-sun was born in 1896 in Pyongyang, Korea. She debuted in 1917 when her short story A Girl in Doubt appeared in Youth [Chungchun]. In 1919, while she was studying abroad in Tokyo, she joined Korea’s first literary circle Creation [Changjo], which is reputed as the harbinger of modern Korean literary style. She published her first book of poems The Fruit of Life in 1925, which is also the first book of poems published by a Korean woman. Kim was known as quinti-lingual, and she introduced works of Edgar Allan Poe and Charles Baudelaire to Korean readers for the first time. Along with the literary movement, Kim was also a central figure in the feminism movement of her time. She argued that the world would achieve peace rather than war if women could play a major role in sociopolitics. Moreover, she openly supported free love, and her practice of free love subjected Kim to severe criticism. The fact she was a date rape victim and a daughter of a courtesan hardened the criticism, even among the writers who were close to her. After she fled to Tokyo in 1939, her mental health exacerbated due to extreme financial hardship, failed relationship, and ongoing criticism, and Kim spent rest of her life in Aoyama psychiatric hospital in Tokyo. While her year of death is known to be 1951, this date is not officially verified.
A note about the translator
Sean Jido Ahn is a literature student and a translator residing in Massachusetts, USA. His main focus is Korean to English translation, and he has translated a documentary, interviews, journal articles, and literary pieces. Currently, he runs a poetry translation blog AhnTranslation and plans to publish the first edition of a literary translation quarterly for Korean literature in fall 2017.