자정에/at midnight

텅 빈 거리에서
눈송이가 내 이마에 내린다

빛 없이 길을 잃었어요


at midnight
on a deserted street
snowflakes fall upon my brow

without light I am lost


Flowers of a Moment: Poem 24

아우슈비츠에 가서
쌓인 안경들을 보았다
쌓인 산더미 신발들을 보았다
돌아오는 길
서로 다른 창 밖을 바라보았다


I went to Auschwitz
and saw the piles of glasses
and the mountains of stacked shoes.
On the way back,
I gazed out of a different window.

-Ko Un



This is poem 24 from Flowers of a Moment, which is a small volume of poetry by Korean author Ko Un that I am currently translating into English.

듣지 말라고/do not listen

어두운 하늘로 도망가기 전에
우아한 참새는 오늘 꿈들이 없을 거라고 선포했다

나뭇가지가 건드렁거린다
땅에 쓰러지는 동안 작은 도토리는 듣지 말라고 운다

before flying away into a dark sky
an elegant sparrow declared that there would be no dreams today

tree branches sway
as it falls to the earth a little acorn cries, do not listen


This is the first Korean poem that I ever wrote.  I wrote it in 2012, when I knew nothing about how to format quoted speech in Korean.  I took some time this morning to fix the quoted speech and to clean up the verse.  I don’t think that it is a particularly strong poem, but I did want to share it.

Trees are Watching Me: Flowers of a Moment in Translation

On October 9th, it was announced that French author Patrick Modiano will be the recipient of the 2014 Nobel Prize in Literature.  In the wake of this news, many in South Korea’s literary circles are once again asking themselves when a Korean author will claim the coveted prize.  Since 1901 the Nobel Prize in Literature has been awarded to 111 Laureates, yet a Korean author has never collected the honor.

In discussions with foreign publishers, Korean literary agent Joseph Lee discovered that Nobel Prize winning authors generally have two things in common:  Usually, their works have been translated into at least 15-20 languages AND they have a “loyal readership in their own country.”   Journalist Chung Ah-young has reported that over the last five years the average Korean spends only 26 minutes per day reading.  How can Korea promote their literature to a global audience if they are having a hard time doing so at home?  Fortunately, the quantity and quality of translations of Korean literature are improving every year, something which has often been a stumbling block in gaining more recognition and a larger readership from the global community.

Ko Un (81) is frequently mentioned as a favorite for the Nobel Prize in Literature.  So much so, that reporters usually camp outside Ko’s home ahead of the yearly Nobel recipient announcement.  Ko is a prolific poet and novelist whose career has spanned over five decades.  His work has been influenced by the traumas which he experienced during the Korean War, his involvement with the Democracy Movement of the 1970’s and early 80’s, as well as by the ten years that he spent living as a Buddhist monk before he began writing in earnest.

Almost every article I read on South Korea’s prospects of receiving a Nobel Prize in Literature mentioned Ko Un, yet I had never heard of him and his work before last week.  Moreover, I didn’t know any of the other Korean writers who are also considered to be strong contenders for the Literature Prize, authors such as Hwang Sok-yong and Lee Seung-u.   2008 Nobel Laureate Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio has mentioned both Hwang and Lee as possible future recipients of the Nobel Literature Prize.

After learning about who South Korea’s most esteemed authors are, I had a strong desire to investigate their work.  My Korean language study has now progressed to a point where reading Korean books without translation can realistically be used as a learning tool rather than as an exercise in frustration and dictionary hopping.  I am not yet at a stage where I can pick up any book and read it from front to back without a translator, but I am certainly able to read for pleasure with occasional rest stops for clarification and meaning.

Due to Ko Un’s standing as Korea’s most promising bet for the Nobel Prize in Literature, I decided to start with his work.  I didn’t want to bite off more than I could chew as I am currently engaged in several other time-consuming writing and Korean study projects.  I elected to begin with a collection of 185 short poems entitled Flowers of a Moment (순간의 꽃), put out by Munhakdongne Publishing Company.  It is a slender volume of 118 pages and most of those pages only contain between six and eight lines of verse.  Ko sets the tone for the collection with the following brief introduction:

해가 진다

내 소원 하나
살찐 보름달 아래 늑대 되리

the sun sinks.

my only wish
is to be a wolf under a corpulent full  moon.


As I delved further into Ko’s poems, it occurred to me that I could kill two birds with one stone by using them to study for the TOPIK II Korean Language exam, which I hope to take in the Spring of 2015.  On account of Flowers of a Moment’s slim size, I believe that it is ideally suited for translation practice and because I write poetry myself, I feel that the translation work will hold my interest for the duration of the project.  This morning I began with the volume’s first four poems.  At this rate, I expect the translation to be completed by the end of December.

In 2006, a translation of Flowers of a Moment by Young-moo Kim was published by BOA Editions Ltd.  For me, the exciting aspect of this translation project is that an English translation already exists.  You see, I am not a translator by trade.  I don’t have a degree in Korean Language or a certification that would qualify me to do this kind of work professionally.  Yes, I did pass the Basic Level Korean Language Exam, but so have many other language hobbyists who share my interest in Korean.  After I finish my work, I plan to compare it with the BOA edition in order to see if the essence of my translation is truthful.  I will be curious to examine how my work holds up, if it does at all.

I am still learning Korean and translation is not an exact science, therefore if my version of Flowers of a Moment falls short of being a passable translation, I won’t judge myself too harshly.  During this journey, I may occasionally post a snippet of whatever poem I happen to be working on at the time.  In January, when the work is finished, I will update the blog with an analysis of the project.

For now I leave you with the first poem from Flowers of a Moment.

today was spent in somebody’s story

on the path home,
trees are watching me


난항/Rough Passage

오래된  그 배는 끊임없는 격랑에 항해한다
부담을 실은 배에 따라 두근거리는 내 가슴은 요동친다
몸은 약하고  지치는데  계속적으로 난 고요한 바다를 기원한다
힘들고 오랜 항해 후 육지에 올랐다
영원히 무거운 눈꺼풀을 감는다

This old boat sails through an endless rough sea.
My pounding heart rolls with the burdened ship.
This body is weak and ragged; I pray incessantly for calm waters.
After a long and difficult voyage, land is reached.
Heavy eyelids close forever.


It has been one week since I updated the blog.  I have been busy with work and Korean studies.   Hopefully this lag in updates will not become a trend! 🙂


mi amor
es una cereza estropeada
blanda y carnosa
manchará los dedos
maneje con mucho cuidado

my love is an
overripe cherry
soft and fleshy
it will stain your fingers
handle it with great care

내 사랑은
너무 익은 버찌이다
부드럽고 살찐 것이다
손가락이 얼룩지게 될 것이다
신중히 처리해야 한다


I wrote this poem 10 years ago when I was studying Spanish in college.  I found it on an old hard drive today and decided to translate it into Korean.  Apologies if either the Spanish or Korean translation is way off.  




어두운  그림자는  나타나다
창문밖에  앉아  있는 올빼미가  저보다  훨씬  슬기로운  것 같다
어둠  속을  보는  올빼미가  두렵지  않다

Dark shadows arise.
The owl that is perched outside of the window seems far wiser than I.
He looks into the obscurity and is not afraid.


마지막 춤
마지막 노래
마지막 포옹
마지막 웃음
마지막 사랑
나는 알았더라면 울었을 것이다
이제 난 울고 있다

last dance
last song
last hug
last laughter
last love
if I had known, I would have cried
I am crying now

Today was my last class with my youngest group of students.  I didn’t know it was the last class until after I came home from the lesson because the school didn’t tell me before class time.
I usually write Korean poems to solidify grammar or vocabulary which I am currently studying, however this simple poem came from the heart and came to me in Korean instead of in English.
However, this is the first time that I’ve used the “If I had/I would have” grammar point in my writing !


부드럽고 새하얀 눈이 땅에 내리는 동안 사나운 호랑이는 잔다.  
호랑이가 겨울잠에서 곧 깨어날 것이기 때문에 우리는 경계를 늦추지 않아야 한다.  
만약 그렇지 않다면 ~ 작고 하찮은 들쥐처럼, 우리는 틀림없이 죽게 될 것이다. 
시간은 우리에게 불리하다…..

A ferocious tiger sleeps as soft and pure white snow falls to the ground.
We must be vigilant for his winter sleep will soon come to an end.
If not ~ like small and insignificant field mice, we shall surely be killed.
Time is against us…..


*Korean translation edited for clarity by Seok Jin Wook

달을 위한 날개/wings for the sake of the moon

검은 망토 아래, 우아한 별이 숨어 있다
울고있는 달은 안타까운 가곡을 부른다
난 대단한 혼의 눈물을 씻으러 날아간다

Under a black mantle,
       elegant stars are hiding.
The weeping moon,
      hums a pitiful tune.
 I take wing to wipe away the
      tears of the magnificent spirit.