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Three Poems by Kim Sowol

Translated from Korean by Jack Jung

Translator’s Note

        Kim Sowol (1902-1934) is often regarded as the Poet of Korean people. Though he was mostly unknown by his contemporaries and died in extreme poverty, appreciation and love for his work grew after his untimely death. His lines have been turned into popular songs, and his poems are ubiquitous in Korean literary textbooks and anthologies.
        Bringing together traditional and modern forms in a unique blend of Korean lyricism, longing and lamentation harmonize with imagination and soul in Sowol’s poetry. The musicality and deceptive simplicity of Sowol’s lines are astounding in the original text; to read them in Korean is to experience deeper awareness of the connection between language and the innate music in one’s body and mind.
        The three poems that have been selected and translated here are insightful samples of Sowol’s deep songs. Jindallae Flower (진달래꽃) is perhaps the most well-known poem in Korea, and it would not be an exaggeration to claim that almost every Korean knows this poem by heart. The poem is written to a departing lover, and its potent mixture of sorrow, gentle spitefulness, and beauty are key qualities in Kim Sowol’s poetry.  A Flower is On A Mountain (산유화), another famous poem, enscapulates the solitary life and the cyclical nature of  existence. While Following My Late Love I Woke from the Dream and Lamented (옛 임을 따라가다가 꿈 깨어 탄식함이라) was published in a literary magazine during Sowol’s lifetime, but was not included in his first and only book of poetry, titled Jindallae Flower. It is lesser-known than the two other poems, but it shows the poet maturing in his dealings with his themes.
        My English translations of these poems are at times radically different from the originals. I have not changed the images, and I do not believe I have changed their tones. However, their syntactical structures vary greatly from the Korean text, and I have decided to do this in order to carry over certain musical qualities I believe are necessary in embodying Kim Sowol’s poetry. This has resulted in the poems having somewhat more complicated sentences in the English compared to their Korean sources. I have also kept the sound of the name of the flower in the first poem, which usually gets translated as “Azalea.”

Jindallae Flower

Once I am shaped as the reason of your disgust, pushing
you toward somewhere not here, there
will be no words, my letting-go enduring graciously.

On a hill where herbs grow in Yongbyon province
Jindallae flowers are blossoming, and here
I have brought an armful I plucked to scatter them before you

as you take those steps away from here, and for each you take
a flower will need to be crushed, so take care to tread
lightly as you leave me be

in the shape of who I am that disgusts you so, pushing
you toward somewhere not here, though
this may be my death, no, tears won’t flow where I am.


나 보기가 역겨워
가실 때에는
말없이 고이 보내 드리우리다

영변에 약산
아름 따다 가실 길에 뿌리우리다

가시는 걸음 걸음
놓인 그 꽃을
사뿐히 즈려밟고 가시옵소서

나 보기가 역겨워
가실 때에는
죽어도 아니 눈물 흘리우리다

A Flower is on a Mountain

On a mountain flowers open
each flower opens
regardless of fall spring and summer
each flower opens

A mountain
is a mountain
where a flower is opening
that flowers alone over there
and a small bird cries on the mountain
in love with the flower
and on the mountain

On a mountain flowers fall  
each flower falls
regardless of fall spring and summer
each flower falls

산유화 (山有花)

산에는 꽃 피네
꽃이 피네
갈 봄 여름 없이
꽃이 피네

피는 꽃은
저만치 혼자서 피어 있네
산에서 우는 작은 새요
꽃이 좋아

산에는 꽃 지네
꽃이 지네
갈 봄 여름 없이
꽃이 지네

While Following My Late Love I Woke from the Dream and Lamented

The red sun hung above a western mountain
and a herd of crownless deer wept
when I saw distant mountains and rough fields
come together without arrangement on this forlorn road—
I walked alone in penance
because at the temple where a woman is shrined in grief 
a candlelight always burns.

Lost in thought, I stood and watched
when a driving horse clattering its bells
pulling a carriage of blue silk and shaman scarlet
passed by in a hurry.
I would call her name now if I could find her—
A word always remains in the middle of our hearts
we leave unspoken in the end.

Oh, a portrait of the woman inhabits
the ruined gatehouse of my home,
her colors fading within myself—
Instead, I am crying here
since thoughts can only build dreams.
After a wind skirts a tree’s branch,
I would let myself go if I could be a rumor in the wind.

임을 따라가다가 깨어 탄식함이라

붉은 해 서산(西山) 위에 걸리우고
뿔 못 영근 사슴의 무리는 슬피 울 때
둘러보면 떨어져 앉은 산과 거치른 들이
차례 없이 어우러진 외따로운 길을
나는 홀로 아득이며 걸었노라
불성업게도 모신 그 여자의 사당(祠堂)에
늘 한 자루 촛불이 타붙음으로

우둑이 서서 내가 볼 때
몰아가는 말은 원 암소래 댕그랑거리며
당주홍칠(唐朱紅漆)에 남견(藍絹)의 휘장을 달고
얼른얼른 지나던 가마 한 채.
지금이라도 이름 불러 찿을 수 있었으면!
어느 때나 심중(心中)에 남아 있는 한마디말을
사람은 마저 하지 못하는 것을

오오 내 집의 헐어진 문루(門樓) 위에
자리 잡고 앉았는 그 여자의 하상(畵像)은
나의 가슴 속에서 물조차 날 건만은
오히려 나는 울고 있노라
생각은 꿈만을 지어주나니
바람이 나뭇가지를 스치고 가면
나도 바람 결에 부쳐 버리고 말았으면.

Kim Sowol (1902-1934) was born in North Pyongan Province. In high school, he met his lifetime mentor, Kim Ok, a poet and translator who opened a new chapter in Korean poetry by translating European symbolist and imagist poetry into Korean. With Kim Ok’s help, Sowol was able to publish his first book of poetry, Jindallae Flower, in 1925. However, he was unable to find an audience for his poetry, nor was he able to find a way out of his extreme poverty. He is said to have died of a brain aneurysm while taking opium to treat his gout, though suspicions of suicide have lingered.

Jack Jung is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’  Workshop, where he was a Truman Capote Fellow. He was born in Seoul, South Korea, and immigrated to the United States. His translations of Korean poet Yi Sang’s poetry and prose are published in Yi Sang: Selected Works by Wave Books. He is the American Literary Translation Association’s 2021 Emerging Translator Mentorship Program Mentor for Korean poetry. He currently teaches Korean poetry translation at Literature Translation Institute of Korea.