Saimdang to Heo Nanseolheon

  • onJune 19, 2018
  • Vol.40 Summer 2018
  • byKo Jung-hee
Saimdang to Heo Nanseolheon


Lamenting the Wives

Oh! Sister Heo
I worry time and again
that for lovely girls of today waking
from the dream of being a good wife and mother
is impossible as reunification
while monogamy rules the land
Politics these days. Apparently
social change movements are a fad
The biggest obstacles to these movements
are supposedly the bourgeois middle class
A class one cannot set aside or be part of
A class that is a protective buffer for traditions
A class that thinks much but has no credibility
A class long subservient to the system
If this is the middle class
its pillars can only be middle-class women
The non-concubine wives of today
Listen to this
On a satellite broadcast some days ago
I watched a women’s talk show
beamed from a studio in Yeoeuido
All the wives in the audience might as well
have been from the Joseon Dynasty
No change in politics
Women and men have separate work
Women are told not to step out of
cooking, doing laundry, and raising children
How could I not strike my chest in lamentation
Those crooked words spoken by Yi Ik:
Women should not have learning
A woman who uses her talent spells disaster for the nation
His declaration lives on as an elegant ghost

What is monogamy
A plot to treat women as possessions
What is a wife
A designation to punish mistresses and concubines
What are mistresses and concubines
Soft targets of the pimp culture
What is pimp culture
An eternal conspiracy to subjugate
women’s wombs under men’s phalluses
These women who’ve joined the ranks of wives

must almost preemptively realize
that woman’s greatest enemy is woman
and overcome these self-imposed obstacles
else I declare unto you, while
a woman’s restraint is heavy as a mountain
a woman’s life is light as a feather
and five millennia of tears is not enough
so the women in the underworld lament.


Translated by Anton Hur


Author's Profile

Ko Jung-hee(1948–1991) authored ten poetry collections in her lifetime, including Memorial Day (1983) for which she received the Republic of Korea Literature Award. All Things that Disappear Leave a Space Behind was published posthumously in 1992. She was known for her resistance poetry, based particularly upon the Gwangju Uprising, as well as for her lyric poems.