The Twentieth Century

  • onApril 20, 2015
  • Vol.27 Spring 2015
  • byKim Nam Jo
Rain, Sky, Wind, Port
Tr. Hillel Schwartz and Sunny Jung


I loved the Twentieth Century.

I met my life as my betrothed
and through my life-studies
(fated to begin most miserably
on fields of war and death)
I was awakened to pure and passionate yearning
and the nobility of life.

I loved the Twentieth Century.
I loved its shuddering, suffering, and trembling hope.
I loved the sublime loneliness of my contemporaries,
those talented people, distant as stars
and quite as beautiful,
with their superabundant civilizations
and deeply thoughtful intellectual traditions.
I felt greatly honored
to be graced by their light.

I loved the Twentieth Century.
I loved its aesthetics of heart-numbing contrition,
its shame and the ache of its wounds
and ah, its floods of bitter grief:
“Yes, I did wrong, I did wrong.”

I ever so much loved the Twentieth Century
whose lessons and blood, now transfused
into a new millennium, reverberate
through the deepest of nerves.


Author's Profile

Kim Nam Jo was born in Daegu in 1927 and attended a girls’ school in Kyushu, Japan. She graduated from the College of Education at Seoul National University with a B.A. in Korean education. Kim made her literary debut with the publication of her poem, “Lingering Image,” in Yonhap News in 1950 and launched her career as a poet with her first collection of poems, Life in 1953.

Kim’s poems express a subtle and feminine sensibility that carries on a lineage of female poets such as Moh Youn Sook and Noh Cheonmyeong from before Korean liberation from Japan. She is grounded in the Catholic faith and her writing gravitates toward the realm of love and life, with themes of maternity and peace. Her early works pay tribute to the dignity of life. In Life, she writes affirmatively about human nature and delineates the world of passion derived from the fullness of life’s vitality. In her collections A Flag of Sentiments and The Winter Sea, she refined her poetic world with increasing emotion. Her later works became more contemplative and explored the fundamental dimensions of humanism. The poet has confessed she received a mandate to delve into the depths of “love” and “poetry,” and accordingly, has chosen erotic and agape love as the themes of her recent poetic exploration and expression.

With a voice emanating from deep within, Kim Nam Jo has sung about the ultimately positive aspects of life and achieved a beauty of both form and rhythm through fluid language. She has established herself as an eminent writer in Korean modern literature who has become renowned for her poetry about the inner strength that elevates the human spirit.

Kim is at present a member of the National Academy of Arts of the Republic of Korea. The English translation of her poetry, Selected Poems of Kim Namjo, was published in 1993; the Christening of the Wind in Japanese in 1995; the German translation, Windtaufe, in 1996; and Antologia Poética in Spanish in 2003.