Poetry by Kim Sowohl

Golden Meadow

Meadow,
meadow,
golden meadow.
The burning fire in the deep, deep mountain valley
is the golden meadow by the grave of my beloved—
Spring has come, spring light has come
to the tip of the willow, and onto its thin branches,
the spring light has come, the spring day has come
to the deep, deep mountain valley, on the golden meadow.

The Way I Go

Longing–
to tell how I long,
the more I long.

Go without a word,
and yet,
once–just this once…

Crows on that mountain, crows in the field,
because the sun sets on the western hill,
they busy themselves with crowing.

River in the front, river in the back,
the flowing waters
hurrying themselves to lead, and to follow,
flowing, flowing, swiftly the rivers flow.

Road

Last night, all night long,
ka-a-awk, ka-a-awk, a crow cawed again
at the tavern house.

Today,
how many miles more,
where am I going?

Up to the mountains
or down to the fields?
I can’t go because nowhere beckons me to come–

Never mind. My home is
in Jungju Gwaksan
where trains run and boats sail.

“Halloo, you,
wild geese in the sky,
is there a road where you fare so well?

“Halloo, you,
wild geese in the sky,
is there a road where you fare so well?”

“Halloo, you,
wild geese in the sky,
I stand in the middle of a crossroads.”

The road branches out again and again
into smaller roads,
yet, there is none for me where I can go.

Longing

Before this spring fades away, before all the petals drop,
before this morning sun sets, I wonder if my beloved will come.

In between, gossamer-white mist, the wind staggers,
like yesterday, the night-spent moon languishes in sunlight.

In my restless longing to see my beloved, the birds have already
begun their singing. Their next song–will we listen together?

My House

On the sloping hill, away from the field,
with the wide ocean behind, I will build my house.
In the front, I will have a big road,
where people will go by alone
and far apart from one another.

Till the day wanes on the river’s white ridge,
standing by the gate, I will wait;
From the morning that comes shimmering
as a whitened world, or as a quiet world,
through the shadows of the dawn birds’ cries.

Keeping my gaze on the passersby, hoping,
it is my beloved, it is my beloved.

Mountain Flowers

In the mountains, flowers bloom,
flowers bloom.
All through autumn, spring, summer,
flowers bloom.

In the mountain,
in the mountain,
the flowers that bloom
bloom alone and far from each other.

The little birds, crying in the mountain,
live in the mountain,
for their love of the flowers.

In the mountain, flowers fade,
flowers fade.
All through autumn, spring, summer,
flowers fade.

Spring Night

On the dark-haired shaggy branches of the weeping willow tree–
Look! Near the tavern window, hasn’t a swallow perched,
spreading its wings wide, like a persimmon skirt!

The wind discreetly blows; crying, it sighs.
A heedless sorrow and the charcoal-dark spring night’s longing–
cotton-soft moisture, floating, covers the earth.

Coming Spring

Thinking of the spring day nearing,
I pass the long, dreary winter days.
Today, on the stretched limbs of an aspen,
a white bird perches and chirps.

Under a ridge of that snow-blanketed field,
is it a shadow, or a fog, or a spring mist?
Here and there, the small villages, with no movement,
lie tranquil under their portion of sky.

Magpies are chattering to birds–
crows crowing, facing the ocean–
The sounds of chimes and bells, nearing–
perhaps, a funeral procession for a young maiden.

Look! How hesitant the passersby–
the aimless steps going, yet not knowing where–
Though the raining tears are endless,
looking at the sky is a joy of living.

One’s own loneliness, its deep anguish,
the foggy faltering–whether to come or to go–
Today, each one of us has lost our beloved,
and not being able to hold our own place is our sorrow.

The sound of the waited-for spring coming–
the tingling feeling in my thin fingertips–
Under the wayside bushes, the nestled strands of hair,
at each step, grab my ankles fretfully.

Afternoon Repose

On the green mound, the embroidered yellow flowers,
the constantly shifting sun and shadow–

A basket under her arm, a young daughter
looking at a butterfly flying away, tears in her eyes–

By the front road, willow leaves already green,
and the azalea blossoms I saw yesterday, scattering–

how desolate the farmhouses of late spring,
inside the shut wattle gates, only the sounds of chickens and dogs.

In the field, the blowing wind hurries the sun;
in the valley, the cries of birds subsiding.

On the ground where I lie, moisture is rising,
the unnameable sorrow of the late sun descending.

Spring Meadow

The tender budding blades of green grass–
as if they would make a sound–
The sunlight, so dazzling,
the silken eyelids tremor–

In the purple-tinged tiny flowers,
in the yellow-hued daisies,
the flowing, sweet, thin nectar
puts the bees and butterflies into slumber.

The peach and apricot trees,
drunk and blushing–
The golden willow by the river,
the long-drawn green branches, reeling.

Coming home from bartered labor,
the cow lets out long, mournful moos,
awakened from a fitful slumber, the dog,
stretching his limbs, yawns.

This green, green thriving grass meadow,
where the red flowers bloom in clusters–
where I used to play with my beloved,
hand in hand: like a dream, like a dream.

Wind and Spring

The blowing wind in spring, wind-blowing spring—
The small branches sway at the blowing spring wind,
my heart-swaying wind, the blowing spring,
it is spring, it is wind. In my body, what cries
is for the blossom, is for the wine-bowl!

Playing in the Field

Wild flowers
bloom
then scatter.

Wild weeds
grown tall, fill the field.
The snake’s tattered old clothes
at the roadside, toss and turn in the wind.

Look! Here and there,
all things shimmer in living–
A falcon, two wings outspread,
trembling, soars high.

In time, my body
goes, then rests again and goes–
A breath, heaving in my chest,
is the overflow of joy–
one step forward, and again forward…

The Time Around Sunset

The time around sunset
is aimless, unending.
In the pale orange-water-spilled sky
a white pigeon circles in the wind, branches weep.

The time around sunset
is anxious, unrelenting.
“Blessed is the one who is able to lighten one’s mind.”
Never mind. A tired wayfarer finds a place to rest.

Crows are chased,
bell-sounds scatter aslant,
a calf calls “Um–Mae–,“
a dog barks, looking at the sky.

The time around sunset
is mirthless, unsparing.
Shall I go down to the river’s edge to hide
under the shade of a big tree and cry out this sadness?

The time around sunset
is the most adored.
Oh! Come and wrap this black kasaya
on your shoulder and chant this sutra with me!

The time around sunset
is the most affectionate.
Like sand dunes, water-dunes, standing silently,
let us behold the moon rising, spreading her skirt up high.

At the Autumn’s Dawn

Darkness, crumpling sky. Below,
the glistening dew on the gray-tiled roof.
Coming and going, the wind, crying,
meets the bare branches in the thinning grove.
The faintly visible hill, below, the fog flows
into the valley and gathers there,

O the dawn after a cold night rain!
Beneath the leaves, the river freezes.
The memories wrapped in tears return
to surround my soul, crying like a newborn
whispers to it–

“The days that your heart felt light,
you longed to return to–when was it?”
O the caressing gentle sound!
These whispers in my aching heart–
forgetting all my shame and hate
at this tender sound, I weep in endless tears.

In the Evening

In this empty field,
from where the farmers and the farm animals
have returned home, only the sounds of bullfrogs flourish.

The blue sky lowers,
on the distant hill, the sloping path darkens;
to towering trees, birds turn in for the night.

Over the ever-widening field,
standing as if I am nailed here, with head bent down,
I stare into gleaming water–then, a deep sigh: why?

Forgetting that the night has already deepened,
the body lightens, in thoughts as high as the mind lifts–
Suddenly, into a not-so-distant autumn grove, a beam leaps from a star.

In the Autumn Evening

Water is white and long, more than sky,
cloud is red, more than sun–
I roam the edges of the long-sloped field sadly,
in tears, thinking of my beloved.

The deep shadow, clambering in the front of my feet,
before me, the road stretches endlessly–
The tall trees below, a village by the water
emerges between the bared branches.

Though no one has promised to come,
and there is no one to wait for!
Yet, I circle along the pond’s edge
as the evening glow wanes in the water.

Bios

Kim Sowohl

Kim Sowohl (1902-1934) belongs to the first generation of modern Korean poets of the early 20th century and remains one of the most beloved poets in Korea today. Born in 1902 in North Pyongan Province, Sowohl came of age during the Japanese occupation (1910-1945) and began writing poetry at the age of 16. Written using only the Korean alphabet, Hangeul, instead of classical Chinese characters, Sowohl’s literature became a symbol of patriotic thinking.

Sowohl’s poetry is highly lyrical, deeply emotional, and nostalgic. He published Azalea Flower, a collection of 127 poems, in 1925. In 1939, after his death, was published The Poetry of Kim Sowohl, a collection of 80 poems that secured his position in the canon of Korean modern poetry.

Sekyo Nam Haines

Sekyo Nam Haines, born and raised in South Korea, immigrated to the U.S. in 1973 as a registered nurse. She studied American literature and writing at the Goddard College ADP, and poetry with the late Ottone M. Riccio in Boston, MA. Her poems have appeared in the books Do Not Give Me Things Unbroken: An Anthology of Contemporary Poetry (2002) and Unlocking The Poem (2009), among others, and in the poetry journal Off the Coast. Her translations of Korean poetry have appeared in The Harvard Review and The Seventh Quarry. She lives in Cambridge, MA with her family.

English translation copyright (c) Sekyo Nam Haines, 2016.