Five Poems by Kim Myŏng-sun, Translated from the Korean by Eunice Lee

Greetings to Spring

I

As if sprinkling stars onto the sky
or hiding gold nuggets under the earth
I will take this lingering love and
drop it in the pond — will it
stir back to life? Bloom into
a magenta lotus, the goldfish its brother?

II

Spring zephyrs flutter at the riverside pavilion
while a single blood-red flower falls
onto the azure surface of the water.
A swallow, allured, veers away
from its trek south of the river.

Flame

I

O boatman, drop your anchor
in the heart of the sea.

The wild waves may leap
and tip over the universe

but the lone boat will guard its flame,
a single star against the night sky.

II

My body, mine?
No, no, it is not.

When wistful, I see it in my dream:
a hostage of Love

When lonely, I take another look:
a captive of Pain

A Cursed Song

I

O scarlet rouge — with whom
will I share my whispers now?
O red lips turned blue —will I ever smile again?
O fair countenance darkened — how
will I face my mirror?

II

As one would hide gold
in the dirt, or jade under rocks, I, in my
wounded bosom, planted a seed.
It rained and it snowed.
I let a briar grow.

Two Hearts

I

When a woman of two hearts
comes down to the front yard

to plant a torn red flower
back into its bed of soil

they tell her, ever so coldly:
“You wait until the rain stops.”

II

Should you rise up to Heaven
or should you sink into Hell?

A cursed life I lead, without
a single cave to hide in.

Carrying two hearts, I agonize
in the heavens and on the earth.

III

Every night, in every dream,
I weep, drenched in waves.

On a lonely day, two-hearted,
I ask the sea what all this means:

It says it is a single heart
forlorn, and broken in two.

Constancy

I

A swamp in the woods
speckled and strewn with seeds.
Were it a childish meadow,
it’d be teeming with weeds.
But here, a lotus pip
blooms into a bouquet, and beams.

II

Against the filth of mire,
the lovely hue of a lotus flower.
Battered by life and its tides,
it rises and aspires nonetheless.
Alas, hope, as they say,
is a difficult, difficult thing.

봉춘
1
하늘에 별 뿌리듯 땅속에 금 감추듯
못 잊어 정든 정을 못 속에 살려보면
홍련이 피어날 때 금붕어 형제 할까
2
봄바람 한들한들 강정에 밝았으니
피 붉은 꽃 한 송이 푸른 물에 떨어져
강남 길 가던 것을 오던 제비 낚도다

불꽃
1
야 이 가던 사공아 해심에 닻 주려마
사나운 물결 뛰어 누리를 뒤집어도
외배에 불꽃 지켜 하늘에 별 하나다
2
내 몸이 내 것이라니 아니다 또 아니다
그리워 꿈에 보면 사랑의 인질이요
외로워 고쳐 보면 아픔의 포로로다

저주된 노래
1
오오오 빨간 연지 누구와 속삭이랴
붉던 입술 푸르러 다시야 웃어보랴
희던 얼굴 검거라 거울을 들어 보랴
2
흙 속에 금 감추듯 돌 속에 옥 가리듯
그 아픈 가슴 터에 설움의 씨 심은 후
비 내리고 눈 내려 가시 넝쿨 길렀다

두 마음
1
두 마음 품은 여인 뜰 아래 내려설 때
뿌리 패인 빨강 꽃 다시 심어 볼 것을
비나 멎건 가라고 냉랭히 이르도다
2
천당 길 가려느냐 지옥 길 가려느냐
숨어질 동굴 없이 저주의 신세 되어
두 마음 품에 품고 천지에 아득인다
3
밤마다 꿈마다 물결에 젖어 울며
두 마음 외로운 날 바다에게 물으면
외로운 한 마음이 깨져서 둘이라고

정절
1
숲 속에 늪 있으니 종자로 메워진다
철없는 들이면은 잡초로 깊을 것을
연밥 한 알 받아서 한 떨기 벙긋벙긋
2
더러운 진흙 속의 연꽃 빛 고움이여
세파에 부대끼며 의지를 세움 같다
두어라 희망이란 곤란하다 하거니


About the translator:

Eunice Lee is a fourth year A. B. candidate at Princeton University majoring in English and pursuing certificates in Creative Writing and Translation & Intercultural Communication. She is the 2018 recipient of the E. E. Cummings Society for the Academy of American Poets Poetry Prize and the author of THE RED PAIL: Short Stories, Essays, and Vignettes (Bobbook 2015).

About the author

Kim Myŏng-sun was a prolific poet, novelist, translator, and lesser-known pioneer of Korean feminist literature. Her legacy as a member of the first generation of Korean feminist writers has only recently begun receiving scholarly attention. “A Lover’s Gift” is the latter of the two poetry collections she published in her lifetime. Her first collection, “The Fruit of Life” (1925), made her the first woman poet in Korea to publish a full-length poetry collection.

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