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POETRY

When I Play the Flute & Other Poems

  • onDecember 10, 2018
  • Vol.42 Winter 2018
  • byCho Jihoon
The Complete Poems of Cho Jihoon
Tr. Sung-Il Lee
1997
468pp.

 

When I Play the Flute

When I play the flute, sitting in the pavilion,
I hear a crane call amid the clouds far-off.

Drenched in the dew is the green grass;
The pale moon sinks below the hill.

Like the wind flowing over a stream,
The cold white clouds overflow my heart.

When I play the flute, reclining in the pavilion,
The flower-rain and the flower-wind mingle with my tears,

And the twelve peaks of Cha-ha are seen,
Where a deer weeps, chewing the soft sprouts.

 

A Minstrel

Upon the lone path winding through
The surging field of barley and corn
A lonesome traveler is walking,
As if blown on with the midday clouds.

The tobacco-pouch and the spectacle-case
Are hung snugly from his belt.

The outer garment soaked in the rain
That fell during the windy night,
Bundled with the socks and the pipe,
Is slung lightly over his shoulder.

Near the rock by the sobbing brook
Below a sad pile of wishing stones
He rests his legs and closes his eyes
To pick the strings of his cherished harp.

The little girl, who used to follow
Barefoot in threadbare clothes
Of handsomely matching white and purple,
He has buried in the alder-filled valley.

The dusk falls upon the road
Creeping to the hill overgrown with pines.
His white beard is blown by breeze,
As the lonesome traveler walks in sorrow.

 

 

 

At Dabuwon

After a month’s siege we come out to Dabuwon,
Where thin clouds are strewn over the hills.

This is the place that has been torn by
The howling cannons for a whole month.

All this time Dabuwon has remained
So close to the town of Taegu.

For a small village to be kept
Within the bosom of a free motherland

Not even a single annual plant
Could run its full course of life.

O do not ask—
Why this scene of havoc
Was necessary, after all.

The head of a battle horse with no trunk
Still screaming in silence to the sky—

An enemy soldier crouching on the roadside
As if sobbing in self-reproach and remorse—

Heaven once allowed them all
To move blessed under the same sky;

But now in the chilly autumn wind
They are spreading the smell of mackerels.

If fate is not to be blamed for this,
If we cannot believe it should be,
What solace is there for these deaths?

Dabuwon revisited by the survivors
Gives no repose to the dead or the living,
While the wind keeps blowing.

 

Here Lies an Enemy Soldier”

From Ui-sŏng to An-dong, then to the Juk-nyŏng Pass,
The maneuver drives on like a sweeping wind.

I jump down from the truck to quench my thirst,
And fondle a chrysanthemum blooming nearby,

When I see a piece of wood stuck in the grass,
With a scrawl in white chalk—

“Here lies an enemy soldier.”

Beside it, the body of a young boy,
Whose life is still lingering in his feeble breath.

His blood-soaked limbs are already rotting,
And his half-open eyes have lost their luster.

Dragging your bleeding limbs, you must’ve crawled
Here to dip your head and drink long.

Within the same motherland
The soil of your home must’ve smelt the same.

Even though you were an enemy,
Even if you had not been of the same blood,
The mere thought of shared life made someone write this!

Who can perpetrate further butchering
Upon your soul seeking peace now?

As if bidding farewell to a beloved one,
I am leaving you,
My heart still staying behind.

Beneath the clear blue sky of autumn
The battle goes on, while

A piece of wood is standing quietly,
Bearing the grief lovingly engraved on it—

“Here lies an enemy soldier.”

 

Grass-blades

Below the ruins of an ancient wall
Is a rock weathered in the flow of time.

I climb the hill and stand on it,
As the sailing clouds beckon far.

Looking at the grass waving
As a stream of wind flows on it,
I let my body be swayed
By the gentle stroke of a breeze.

Lovely incarnations of life primeval,
We talk, laugh softly, looking
At each other’s languid face.

In the ripples of the flow of time
The soul, flowerlike, blooms quietly.

 

 

The Going

The journey is taken all by himself—
A long journey of ten thousand leagues.

Along the streams winding through
The meadows and the hills far away

The lingering fragrance of the green grass
Follows him on his long journey.

His white garment
Is fluttering in the breeze,

As he plays a willow pipe,
Having left all his cares behind,

On his journey over the setting sun,
A long journey of ten thousand leagues.

 


(Excerpt from pp. 30, 35, 54, 67, 171, 174)

 

Translated by Sung-Il Lee

Author's Profile

Cho Jihoon (1920–1968) was a poet active from the 1940s to 1960s. He was part of the “Blue Deer” group with poets Pak Mok-wol and Pak Tu-jin, named after a collection the three published together in 1946. He served as president of the Society of Korean Poets and the first head of the Korea University National Culture Research Institute.