Selected Poems

  • onJuly 20, 2017
  • Vol.36 Summer 2017
  • byKim Su-Young
The Collected Poetry of Kim Su-Young
Tr. Lee Young-Jun



By the Scallion Garden

As the shell of a boiled egg
is peeled,
when old love
is peeled,
behold the green sprouts in the red garden of scallions.
To gain is to lose.

In the way your shadow moves
over the dusty mirror,
when old love
behold the green sprouts in the red garden of scallions.
To gain is to lose.

Like water given to scallions at dawn
remains until midday,
when old love
is still wet
in the center of the regretful mind,
behold the green sprouts in the red garden of scallions.
To gain is to lose.




Summer Night

On the day noise on earth flourishes,
noise in heaven also flashes.
That’s why summer is wonderful,
and why a summer night is all the more wonderful.

A white cloud of summer roses
bloomed late in the season
in a corner of the garden troubled by noise.
A shower passed and wind seemed to come,
but did not
and noise flourished all the more.

When the day comes when people care about people,
the day after noise flourishes to the full,
the day when people love people,
the day before noise flourishes to the full,
we are always on the second floor above the noise.

We have never seen a humane heaven get this close
to us as if the second floor of earth is heaven.
To pity others is to pity myself
and my son also.

On the day after people loved people enough,
I thought noise existed only on earth.
But I realized that thunder in heaven
is louder than our ears can hear—
it has always been there.

On the day noise flourishes on earth,
the thunder of heaven flashes.
Because of this,
the deeper the summer night, the better.



Cloud Watcher

If one looks carefully into the person that I am
one will know I’m living a life treacherous to poetry.

With a mind standing on the top of a mountain
I look at my children, my wife, and other vulgar things around them.

I am determined to see only what is designated
but if a friend comes and wakes me from a dream
and rebukes me for my failures, it’s alright.

I am not living this old way
because I hate thoughtless bloodshed.
Above the dusty weed
is the sleeping cloud.
In the world where you can’t even experience hardship the way you want
like a late spider out of season it is hard to live without recognition.

How awkward my life is, living like others, although only in appearance,
with two bedrooms, two verandas, a clean kitchen, and pitiful wife.

O, poet’s mind that lives to betray poetry.
What is more miserable than a poet who cannot feel and look upon his naked body.
All the stupid ideas, looking for home on the street and yearning for the street at home
perhaps disappeared like swallows that flew away.

Like swallows that flew away without a trace or dream
not knowing where I am heading
my treacherous mind must go somewhere.

I’m on the mountaintop now—
punished for my treason to poetry.
On this dry mountaintop, I must watch clouds for a long time without dreaming.
I am the watcher of the clouds.





A Massive Root


I still don’t know how to sit properly.
When I happen to be drinking with two friends,
they don’t sit cross-legged, with one foot on one knee.
The minute I sit cross-legged in the Southern style, without fail
they turn out to be from the North, so I change my posture.
After Liberation, the poet Kim Byeong-uk always tucked his feet under his butt
like a Japanese woman whenever he argued.
But he’s a tough fellow
having put himself through college in Japan by working in a steel mill for four years.

I am in love with Mrs. Isabella Bird Bishop.
She was the first to visit Joseon in 1893
and was a member of the Royal Geographic Society of the United Kingdom.
She saw a theatrical scene in Seoul: when a bell in Ingyeong Pavilion tolled
all the men in the capital disappeared and Seoul turned into a world of women.
During that beautiful time, men could not walk on the street
except for rickshaw drivers, eunuchs, servants of foreigners, and officials.
At midnight, the women disappeared, and the men came out again to engage in debauchery.
She says she had never seen a country with such a curious custom;
Queen Min had never gone out of the palace . . .

If something is tradition, it does not matter how filthy it is.
At Gwanghwa Gate, I am reminded of the muddy road of the Sigu Gate,
and think of a time when women washed their laundry in the brook,
now paved over, boiling lye, near Inhwan’s wife’s home.
I consider this gloomy age a paradise.
After I knew of Mrs. Bird Bishop, the thoroughly rotten Republic of Korea
did not trouble me. Rather, it is far too good for me.
If something is history, it does not matter how filthy it is.
If something is a muddy road, it does not matter how filthy it is.
As long as I can keep memory resonating more sharply than the echo of a brass bowl,
humans will be eternal, and so will love.

While I am in love with Mrs. Bishop,
you, progressives and socialists, fuck off!
Reunification, neutral policy? Screw it.
Intimacy, profundity, scholarship, dignity, convention,
go to the national security office.
The Oriental Development Company,1 the Japanese embassy,
Korean officials, all of you, suck ice cream and American cock.
For my part, I like chamber pots, hair bands, long bamboo smoking pipes,
garden shops, cabinet shops, pharmacies at Gurigae, shoe shops, leather shops,
a pockmarked person, a one-eyed guy, a barren woman, an ignoramus;
I like all these reactionaries.
In order to put a foot on this land
I thrust the massive root into my land.
The iron pillars of the third bridge of the Han River,
planted under the water, are hairs on a moth
compared to the massive root.

The massive root, reminding me of the mammoth in a horror movie,
with deep black boughs repelling even crows, even magpies,
that I cannot dare to imagine
compared to the massive massive root . . .


1. The Oriental Development Company, a quasi-official apparatus of the colonial administration, was created by the Japanese Diet in 1908. It “began a rapacious acquisition of land that would eventually make the company not only colonial Korea’s single biggest landlord but the infamous symbol and epitome of Japanese oppression to many Koreans.” Quoted from Carter Eckert, Offspring of Empire: The Koch’ang Kims and the Colonial Origins of Korean Capitalism 1876-1945 (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1991), p.16.





Sentimental Panmunjom2


Thirty thousand won that I promised to pay by the 31st.

Thirty thousand won that I said I would get by the 29th but, to be sure, I asked her to wait until tomorrow.
The person who will receive the money is my friend’s wife who fled from the North during the January 4th Retreat.
The bitch who embezzled the money is said to be a member
of a mutual loan club of one million won, of which my wife is not a member.
But the boss of a loan club of which my wife is a member is the boss of the club
in question and I heard she makes and sell dolls.
My friend’s wife forced us to repay the money at any cost,
and we went to a friend to beg for a loan
on the security of our house, without interest, for fifteen months.
The friend is from Hamgyeong Province, where the person who is supposed to receive the money is from.

There is no hope the money will be available by the 31st.
When I called him, he asked me whether the problem had been solved yet.
The mode of questioning seemed strange.
What if this will not work?
I am intentionally trying not to think of the last resort,
at least until the 31st!

31st, O my Panmunjom,
The field, the curtain of
darkness of a fool.
The original due date of the money is
the end of October.
It is the due date in my calendar,
but in the calendar of the 38th parallel,
August 15th is the due date.
It may have been my mistake to tell my friend who is supposed to lend me the money
that the woman who is supposed to receive the money is
the wife of my friend of the January 4th Retreat
and is from the same home town as him.
It may have been a mistake to tell my friend
to whom I said I would repay the money by the 31st, no the 29th,
and to whom I gave the deed to our house.
It may have been the miscalculation of my wife and I,
people of the South, concerning the 38th parallel.
Could it have been the groundless sentimental thought of another year?


2. Panmunjom is a village on the border between North and South Korea, where the 1953 armistice that halted the Korean War was signed. As one of the last vestiges of the Cold War, the building where the armistice was signed is used as the meeting place between the South and the North.





The Divorce Is Off


I am overjoyed by your decision
the second day after we decided to separate.
I am thrilled that after you decided to divorce me
you decided to pay the debt for which I co-signed
for my friend’s widow.
I am so happy you decided to pay the debt
by borrowing 100,000 won
at 6 percent interest on the security of our house.

We hesitated to pay between 30,000 and 50,000 out of 100,000.
I was the one who hesitated more.
We tried to refinance 50,000—
in order not to hemorrhage, I went to a rich friend
for a loan for the first time in my life, but failed to get it.
We did this and that, that and this, and this
in order not to hemorrhage,
or at least to bleed less painfully.
We did this and that, that and this
and this.

Then I received a letter from a young friend
who went to Scotland to study at the University of Edinburgh
and I was moved to read Blake’s poem in his letter:
“Sooner murder an infant in its cradle than nurse unacted desire.”
I knew what it meant but could not achieve it.

And now I have. Darling, we’ve won.
We’ve achieved Blake’s poem,
now we can have contempt for cold people—
at the house of the Chairman of the National Assembly yesterday
the cold, intelligent eyes of the angelic woman writer
at the cocktail party yesterday
are lying.
Those eyes were not bleeding.
Everything that’s not good is evil, there is no neutral ground
in God’s territory.
Honey, let’s reconcile, let me share in your bleeding,
for that reason alone,
let’s cancel our divorce.

*Note— I translated Blake’s poem this way: “You must know, when a counterpart looks like an enemy, it’s time you arrived at the door to goodness.” [Note by the author—translator]
*Note to the note—the counterpart is the widow. [Note by the author—translator]




Translations by Lee Young-Jun

Author's Profile

Kim Su-Young (1921–1968) is one of the most exceptional poets of modern Korea. He mainly wrote participatory poetry that emphasized the criticism of reality and the spirit of resistance. He died from an accident when he was forty-seven, after which the Kim Su-Young Literary Award was instated in his honor. Mischief of Moon Country is his only collection published during his lifetime, although he left behind over 300 poems. Collections of his poems have been translated into French, Spanish, and German.