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March First Movement: Korean Translations

‘All the bitter things, one by one, in a rush, / She wants to swallow. Clothed in blueblack scales in a forest of iodine-colored seaweeds, / She wants to be chased by a shark.’

By Kim Kirim, Im Hwa, and Kim So-w?l

To celebrate the 97th year since the 1919 March First Independence Movement uprisings in Korea against the Japanese Empire, we present translated poems by three colonial-era Korean writers.
 

 

Goldfish

by Kim Kirim
translated by Jack Saebyok Jung
 

The goldfish thinks the air beyond the fishbowl is an unscalable sky.
Suddenly, the goldfish is clothed in golden scales. Like a leaf of red flower
Her tail unfurls. Like finger rings her eyes protrude.
Now, not even the goldfish’s mother will be able to recognize her daughter.

Every morning, the goldfish covers herself in neat cold water, and thinks the rice flour
And the white hands are wings of an angel. There is a legend-like rumor
That the goldfish’s happiness is somewhere inside the fishbowl.

The goldfish never crashes her head into the glass wall.
Her gentle whiskers quickly sense that she is near the border, and elegantly
She turns away swaying her tail. Even in its mimicry of a blade, her fin
Has no business in cutting the jar open.

When she is moved to the desk in the morning, she steals a glance through the window
And sees the red sea obliquely melting the sunshine. She was taught that this sea
Was a dream. She thinks about how wide it is.

The goldfish wants to cross the glimmering street, and the air beyond the fishbowl, and cut
Through China Sea’s cold current swimming. All the bitter things, one by one, in a rush,
She wants to swallow. Clothed in blueblack scales in a forest of iodine-colored seaweeds,
She wants to be chased by a shark.

The goldfish, however, must close her tiny mouth on her dream that is larger than the sky,
And kill it. Like the settling of excrement, at the bottom of the fishbowl,
Only her age accumulates.
The goldfish keeps thinking of the sea, farther away than the unscalable sky,
As her home she must get back.
 

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Sun’s Custom

by Kim Kirim
translated by Jack Saebyok Jung
 

Sun,
Just once is enough. I will borrow a red-crowned crane’s throat in order to call you. I will polish the dismantled ruin of my heart and build a small palace for you. You come live there. I will call you my mother my country my love my hope. And I will chase after your wild custom and bite this darkness and kill it.

Sun,
Lick the last night’s unclean frost that formed on the white dam and the green grass and the mountain and the lake of my heart’s small universe. Caress my creek and shake the cradle of my ocean. Come to my sickroom like a delightful guest who brings with her the morning of fishes.

Sun’s beauty my poem cannot surpass. Sun’s being my poem cannot be, so it turns to grief, so I use it to keep the light on inside my gloomy sickroom, and, Sun, I am waiting for you to come, staying up through this night.
 

 

 

 

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The Sea and the Butterfly

by Kim Kirim
translated by Jack Saebyok Jung
 

No one told him about the water’s depth.
The white butterfly did not know how to fear the sea.

Thinking it to be a field of blue radish leaves, he floated down.
Young wings ended up pickled in the waves,
Then he returned, tired like a princess.

No flower blossomed on the sea of March’s moon. The grieving
Butterfly’s waist was cold with the pale crescent.
 

 

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For What Do You Search?

by Im Hwa
translated by David Krolikoski
 

The night seemed dead
A blanket laid quietly over ground and sky
And from the edge of the endless darkness above
Gloomy air wanders the earth
As rain glides down leaving neither trace nor sound
Erasing a pebble shaped tear
Upon a leaf in silent slumber
Down it tumbles
Like the mournful tear of the calling cuckoo
Wanderer of the dark night.
Spirit who roams alone in secret
Ceaselessly soaring through rain of night
For what do you search?
 

 

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The Sky

by Im Hwa
translated by David Krolikoski
 

Like the twilight glow of the distant blue sky
Over the persimmon red countryside autumn
The sun of my prison is longer than the night.

By the high window
Outside the thick walls of the narrow cell
The sky is the sea, a child splashing about
It comes and goes, comes and goes.

Shall I pour upon your waves
All I have weighed and pondered
To soar wherever clouds may go!

The small village on the East Sea
Is my home where Mother resides
The red hills of Yeongdeungpo
Where the waters of the Han River murmur
The battlefield where I gave my life.

Even today smoke
Rises above the clouds
And somewhere a few young men
Look up to that all too slender sky
To fill the deep pupils of their wide hopeful eyes
Like water into a lake.

No matter how narrow the outstretched arm
Oh! My sea is more vast than the sky.
 

 

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wind and spring

by Kim So-w?l
translated by Ae Hee Lee

wind which blows in spring, wind blowing spring,
spring wind which sways the small branches,
wind which sways my heart, blowing spring,
so it is spring so it is wind inside this body of mine
so it is flower so it is drink, saying so, i weep.
 

 

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