Poetry From the April 2014 issue: Writing from South Korea
During wartime the men die,
the women survive.
Cockerels have their necks twisted and die,
hens sit on eggs.
Gamak Valley in Yeonsan,
north of Nonsan in South Chungcheong
is where sharp hills
approach the ridges of Mount Gyeryong.
Fifty men died there, once,
while two men
twisted their hair into topknots and revered Kim Il-Bu’s esoteric “Jeongyeok.”
The small room, the door of which is never opened
was pitch dark even at midday.
Yeonsan’s Gamak Valley.
Some forty women survived:
young concubine widows,
If an unfamiliar man appears, their eyes light up.
They each offer a gourd of water with a willow leaf on it.
You must be thirsty.
You look thirsty.
The woman from Buyeo with wide cheekbones,
hastily comes forward.
Drink this water.
I have no idea who you are or where you are from,
yet your face looks familiar.
If you are hungry
I will warm some cold rice, so you can eat before you go on.
The woman from Ganggyeong poured the water out of her gourd,
Yesterday she was making up to a male dog,
today she’s clinging to a man instead of a beast, that slut.
『가막골,』from만인보. © Ko Un. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2014 by Brother Anthony of Taizé and Lee Sang-Wha. All rights reserved.
전란에는 사내들이 죽고
수닭들이 모가지 비틀려 죽어가고
암닭들은 앙알앙알 알을 품는다
충남 논산 위
계룡산 산등성이에 다가선다
사내 50여명 죽고
상투를 틀고 김일부의 정역을 받든다
문을 열지 않는 골방 안
한낮에도 어둑발 갔다
계집들 40여명 살아
낯선 사내 오면 눈이 빛난다
서로 우물물 한 바가지 버들잎 띄워 권한다
유난히 긴 볼의 부여댁
어디서 오신 뉘신가는 모르겼어도
어쩐지 낯이 익구만이유
찬밥이라도 데워드릴 테니 잡숫고 가시어유
강경댁이 바가지 물을쏟아버렸다
어제는 누렁이 수놈헌티 아양 떨더니
오늘은 짐승 대신 사람한테 늘어붙느만그려 저년
Ko UnKo Un
Born in 1933 in Gunsan, North Jeolla Province, Ko Un is Korea's foremost living writer. After immense suffering during the Korean War, he became a Buddhist monk. His first poems were published in 1958, then a few years later he returned to the world. He became a leading spokesman in the struggle for freedom and democracy during the 1970s and 1980s, in a struggle for which he was often arrested and imprisoned. He has published more than 120 volumes of poems, essays, and fiction. In recent years, selections from his work have been translated into at least fourteen languages, including 4 volumes so far published in English: The Sound of My Waves (Cornell EAS) and Beyond Self: Zen Poems (Parallax) were published in the 1990s, Little Pilgrim (Parallax) and Ten Thousand Lives (Green Integer) have been published in 2005. He has been invited to talk and give readings of his work at major poetry and literary festivals in many countries.
Translated from KoreanKorean by Brother Anthony of TaizéBrother Anthony of Taizé and by Lee Sang-WhaLee Sang-Wha
Brother Anthony of Taizé was born in England in 1942 and has been living in Korea since 1980. He taught English literature at Sogang University, Seoul, for many years and is now an emeritus professor there, as well as a chair-professor at Dankook University. He has published more than thirty volumes of English translations of modern Korean poetry, including eight volumes by Ko Un. His Korean name is An Sonjae.
Lee Sang-Wha is a professor in the English Department of Chungang University.
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