옥수수밭 옆에 당신을 묻고
견우 직녀도 이 날만은 만나게 하는 칠석날
나는 당신을 땅에 묻고 돌아오네.
안개꽃 몇 송이 땅에 묻고 돌아오네.
살아 평생 당신께 옷 한 벌 못 해 주고
당신 죽어 처음으로 베옷 한 벌 해 입혔네.
당신 손수 베틀로 짠 옷가지 몇 벌 이웃에 나눠주고
옥수수밭 옆에 당신을 묻고 돌아오네.
은하 건너 구름 건너 한 해 번 만나게 하는 밤
은핫물 동쪽 서쪽 그 멀고 먼 거리가
하늘과 땅의 거리인 걸 알게 하네.
당신 나중 흙 되고 내가 훗날 바람 되어
다시 만나지는 길임을 알게 하네.
내 남아 밭 갈고 씨 뿌리고 땀 흘리며 살아야
한 해 한 번 당신 만나는 길임을 알게 하네.
Burying You Next to the Corn Field
Do Jong Hwan
Gyeon-woo and Jiknyeo meet only on Chilseoknal*
But I return to bury you in the ground.
I return to bury so many baby’s breath flowers.
During your lifetime I never bought you a dress and yet
Upon your death I clothe you in funeral robes.
How many funeral clothes do I weave upon the loom
When I return to bury you next to the corn field?
Crossing the galaxy, crossing the clouds for one night a year,
The galaxy’s expanse stretches east and west so far that
I can know the distance between heaven and earth.
You soon become dirt and later I become wind
So that when we meet again I may know the distance.
My remaining field I plow with seeds and while I sweat I must live another year
So that when I meet you again I may know the distance.
*This poem makes reference to the myth of Gyeon-woo and Jiknyeo. In the legend Gyeon-woo, the herdsman of heaven, falls in love with Jiknyeo, the heavenly garment maker. The gods, in their wrath, separate the lovers and banish them to different stars. Their lamentations are so great the god’s eventually relent and allow them to meet one day a year, Chilseoknal, or July 7th.
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You are amazing, B. I didn’t realize you were this literate in Korean. My fav:
“You soon become dirt and later I become wind
So that when we meet again I may know the distance.”
I was wondering if you coulda left it “baby’s breaths” the way we would say “tulips” (not “tulip flowers”) but I can see that may make it a bit confusing given the particular flower in the context.
It’s only in the last few yrs I realized I woulda loVed writing poetry in Korean for the nuances of the language that leaves English looking insipid. One reason for my aversion to the culture in youth was the conversational Korean I didn’t care for. I didn’t like the intonations. We’ll leave it at that. But I realized as as a writer the potential of written Korean.
Do you thiNk in Korean sometimes?
I’m honored by your comments but I should point out that I had a lot of help understanding the nuances from my Korean tutor, Kim Mi.
I love Korean poetry, probably because it’s so different from the Western stuff. I’m not sure how much of this is just the fact I’m not used to it, but regardless, it’s a great source for idiom and metaphor.
I know what you mean about writing in Korean. One of the things that really motivates me to study is that these poems are so beautiful and I can’t, at least in Korean, write anything nearly as pretty. Honestly, even getting my reading comprehension high enough to translate them quasi-competently is a pretty big rush.
If you like this, btw, you should check out some of the other poems I’ve translated from Korean to English. https://bengarrido.com/seosi/ https://bengarrido.com/bluebird/
That’s so beautiful and profound it made my eyes water. Thank you so much for translating it!
You’re very welcome. This was actually the fruits of one of my Korean classes. It was, as you can probably guess, a lot more fun than memorizing grammar.
Yeah, I can imagine. The Korean language must be extremely difficult to learn. Kudos for taking those classes.
Korean, on a purely logical, technical level, is probably easier than English. Its rules are certainly more consistent. The hardest part is just that EVERYTHING is different from Enlgish. Everything you can imagine and some things you can’t imagine.
That said, it’s a lot of fun and, for us writerly types, an excellent source of metaphor and imagery.
That’s fascinating. My wife is 3rd generation Japanese American. Maybe I should start learning Japanese. I’ve heard it’s similar to Chinese, and at the risk of sounding politically incorrect, I’d imagine it might be similar to Korean in some fundamental way.
You should definitely learn Japanese. If nothing else, it will give you an intellectual workout.
The basic relationship between Korean, Japanese and Chinese is this.
Korean and Japanese have lots of grammatical and idiomatic similarities and some shared vocabulary. Korean and Chinese have a lot of shared vocabulary (although with completely different pronunciation). Chinese grammar, though, is fundamentally very different from Korean or Japanese and Japanese vocabulary doesn’t have much in common with Chinese.
The writing systems in all three countries are completely different. Chinese is basically pictures, Japanese is a quasi syllabic, quasi hieroglyphic mish mash and Korean is an alphabet. That said, all three can insert Chinese characters when they need to distinguish between homonyms.
For example, in Korean, the spelling for “one” and “resentful melancholy” is the same – 한, or ㅎ ㅏ ㄴ if you spread out the letters like we do in English. If you couldn’t guess which meaning was intended from context, the author might write 한 (恨) to indicate resentful sadness and 한 (一) if they wanted to say “one.”
That’s kind of a goofy example, but I hope it’s clear at least.
Yes, that’s quite clear, thank you. Wow, what a complex and interesting set of differences and similarities! I’ve often wondered if people with a language based on characters, such as the Chinese, would find it natural to read without subvocalizing. And if so, are they naturally “speed readers” as a result of not subvocalizing? I had a Chinese roommate in college (from Hong Kong, he spoke Cantonese). I should have asked him what it was like reading characters fast.