The World of My Translated Poems: A Wretched Life, a Powerful Voice

  • onNovember 14, 2014
  • Vol.11 Spring 2011
  • byMoon Chung-hee

1. Windflower (U.S. Edition)
2. Woman on the Terrace (U.S. Edition)
3. Kënga e Shigjetave (Albanian Edition)
4. Die Mohnblume im Haar (German Edition)


My first translated collection of poems is Windflower (Hawks Publishing, 2004, translated by Choe Wolhee and Robert E. Hawks). A poet once wrote, “Reading a poem in translation… is like kissing a woman through a veil;” yet I have hope that the translated version of the poems, which I originally wrote in Korean, may strike a cord in the hearts of readers around the world, and that the verses may go beyond the limitations of one culture and language.

Windflower carries some 60 poems selected with English-speaking readers in mind from eight collections of works published over some three decades since my literary debut. The poems present moments and events that touched me throughout my life—the Korean War I witnessed as a child, the feelings of love and heartbreak experienced while growing up in a divided country, the conflicts of a woman in Korea, life in a traditionally highly patriarchal society—and they take the form of short, restrained lyrics which include words yearning for freedom, tormented by the violence of reality. The verses about ordinary, simple daily life and incidents, without any exaggeration or decoration, result in creating very powerful imagery.

My second translated work is Woman on the Terrace (White Pine Press, 2007, translated by Kim Seong-kon and Alec Gordon). This is also a selective translation from Yanggwibikkot Meorie Kkotgo (2004). The volume includes some 20 pieces from more recent works, which introduce dynamic emotions and leave strong impressions. This collection, therefore, is suitable to demonstrate my latest poetic philosophy and techniques.

The 1970s was a major turning point, socially, for Korea— from a traditionally agricultural society to an industrial one. The concerns of Korean women poets also changed during this era from traditional, passive, and romantic lyrics to a modern, active one revealing their identities. Poetic diction also changed to a language of gender, and the themes also became diverse. And this work happens to be one of the works judged for having contributed to the historical, literary change. While fretting about the restricted freedom of speech under a military government and the suppression one had to endure for being a married woman, I raised the questions about freedom and human rights, which would sometimes be expressed as humor or as carefree love poems. Besides the social and ontological pains, and trials a woman has to bear, she finally comes to realize she is like Mother Earth, fulfilling her duty of procreation.

Thirdly, I’d like to introduce the German translation of Die Mohnblume im Haar (Edition Peperkorn, 2007, translated by Seo Sophia Tjonghi). It is also a collection of selected poems that might be appreciated by German readers. As critics pointed out, the subjects dealt with in this volume are mainly the following: the loneliness of being expressed in ordinary daily life, eroticism and existential self-consciousness, and the female interpretation of life. In addition to the themes of the paradox of the times and history, I explore the high speed of modern society, and the skepticism and criticism of a civilization that continues to drive towards measuring everything in materialistic terms only. The works have received criticism for being typical eco-feminist poetry, which focused on contradictory female myths, amidst an endlessly overflowing passion and hunger for freedom.

Besides the three editions mentioned above, some poems are translated and published in several anthologies, and noteworthy among them is Kënga e Shigjetave (2008) in Albanian published in Macedonia. In 2011, a Spanish language version will be published in Mexico, and a new French version is on the way.

Author's Profile

Moon Chung-hee is a poet and Endowed Chair Professor at Dongguk University. She has won prestigious awards such as the Sowol Poetry Award, the Chong Chi-Yong Literature Prize, the Mogwol Literature Prize, and Sweden’s Cikada Prize. She has participated in the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa. English editions of her books include WindflowerWoman on the Terrace, and I Must Be the Wind.