Azaleas: A Book of Poems

Translated, with an introduction, by DAVID R. McCANN
Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 216
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Available for the first time in English, Azaleas is a captivating collection of poems by a master of the early Korean modernist style. Published in 1925, Azaleas is the only collection Kim Sowol (1902-1934) produced during his brief life, yet he remains one of Korea's most beloved and well-known poets. His work is a delightful and sophisticated blend of the images, tonalities, and rhythms of traditional Korean folk songs with surprisingly modern forms and themes. Sowol is also known for his unique and sometimes unsettling perspective, expressed through loneliness, longing, and a creative use of dream imagery-a reflection of Sowol's engagement with French Symbolist poetry.

    Azaleas recounts the journey of a young Korean as he travels from the northern P'yongyang area near to the cosmopolitan capital of Seoul. Told through an array of voices, the poems describe the young man's actions as he leaves home, his experiences as a student and writer in Seoul, and his return north. Although considered a landmark of Korean literature, Azaleas speaks to readers from all cultures. An essay by Sowol's mentor, the poet Kim Ok, concludes the collection and provides vital insight into Sowol's work and life. This elegant translation by David R. McCann, an expert on modern Korean poetry, maintains the immediacy and richness of Sowol's work and shares with English-language readers the quiet beauty of a poet who continues to cast a powerful spell on generations of Korean readers.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-51145-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
    (pp. 1-12)

    Kim Chŏngsik, known by the sobriquet Sowŏl (White Moon), lived for only thirty-two years (1902–1934) and published but one book of poems, Azaleas (Chindallaekkot, 1925), yet he became one of twentieth-century Korea’s most beloved and well-known poets. Editions of his collected poems have been published in great numbers, especially during the 1960s and 1970s, when his works were made part of the middle- and high-school curricula, at least in South Korea. During the 1980s, a period of intense focus in literary and intellectual circles on the social and political role of the writer, Sowŏl was criticized for having failed...

  5. 1. For My Love
    (pp. 13-24)

    Visit me, someday long after,

    and I might say I have forgotten.

    Blame me, in your heart,

    Missing you so, I have forgotten.

    Still blame me for all of that,

    Not believing you, I have forgotten.

    Today, yesterday, I did not forget you,

    but someday long after, I have forgotten.

    Up on the hill behind our house the green grass grows,

    and across the floor of the grove’s sandy stream,

    shadows of the grass I tossed in go floating away.

    Where, I wonder, is the love I long for?

    Every day, thoughts of my love return.

    Every day alone on...

  6. 2. Spring Night
    (pp. 25-30)

    In dark tresses of the weeping willow’s ancient limbs,

    in vivid blue of the swallow wing blouse,

    and there by the wine house window, just look. Hasn’t spring settled in?

    Silently the winds blow, weep, sigh,

    while without a reason we know sadness and longing this dark spring night

    as gentle vapors rise and cover the ground.

    Going to sleep alone is truly lonely.

    Longing pierces the heart,

    even while it seems your face,

    your face may be utterly forgotten.

    Now the sun has gone down and darkness gathers

    round this place well known as Chemulp’o, in Inch’ŏn.

    Darkness comes...

  7. 3. Two People
    (pp. 31-40)

    This evening as the wind dies, as white snow comes pelting down, just what you might be doing this very evening, now this year . . .

    Even a dream, just let me have one! Falling asleep, won’t we meet? The one I lost, that very one, she comes riding down the white snow.

    Evening. Let the white snow come pelting down.

    Beautifully colored deep purple cloud! The skies are clearing. Snow that fell unseen last night has blossomed over the pine grove.

    Morning sun glistens, clumps of snow leaping.

    What passed last night . . . all forgotten, looking...

  8. 4. No One Lone Mountain
    (pp. 41-50)

    Don’t they say that dogs, roosters,

    and other animals too have dreams?

    Spring should be a time for dreams,

    but I have not a one.

    O the very end of my life!

    I need a dream! I need a dream!

    On this day

    you were to come you haven’t!

    This day of worries, fretting

    as if you were coming!

    All at once the sun is down,

    and the day, dark.

    Mine to all at once

    leave the house,

    scramble up the mountain

    and be there looking down on the sea.

    The boat is out, sailing the sky’s edge.

    When azaleas...

  9. 5. One Time, One Time
    (pp. 51-68)

    My thoughts turn faithful to my cigarettes,

    conspirator friends for that deep, long breath.

    There was someone I met somewhere once

    who told me they are the leaves that grew on the tomb

    of a girl born and straightway seized by death

    in a time now lost and long forgotten.

    Listless, dull smoke drifts before me,

    traces of a flame that lit, begins to fade away.

    O, how my own heart torments me!

    If only these long, desolately empty days

    might be consumed as surely as you!

    This stream, that stream both dashing along,

    but what, what does it mean?...

  10. 6. Half-Moon
    (pp. 69-74)

    Ash-gray, rooftops glisten

    beneath the pale blue sky,

    winds moan as they come and go

    among the grove’s sparse trees,

    while the mountain village, seen, then not,

    is wrapped in fog.

    Dawn, a cold rain.

    The stream freezes under leaves.

    Wrapped in tears, all memories

    bleed like a new wound,

    cry like a newborn infant,

    surrounding my soul with their whispering.

    Wasn’t there a day your heart felt easier

    in its longing for that one time?

    Ah, how that dear voice goes on

    whispering, soothing,

    till at that voice I forget hatred, forget shame,

    and weep, endlessly, without rest.


  11. 7. The Cricket
    (pp. 75-96)

    Evening sun has faded down a dim road,

    distant mountains draw clouds down into darkness.

    What brings even now this thought of meeting,

    when my love has no way to find me?

    For whom do my aimless steps hurry?

    The moon rises, wild geese call in the sky.

    At the end of thinking comes the drowsiness,

    at the end of longing, to forget.

    Say nothing at all, from now, and we will know

    nothing of that sadness of knowing no familiar faces.

    Deeply held belief, the words in my empty heart,

    when I see the two, three, or four good...

  12. 8. If the Seacoast Changed to a Mulberry Grove
    (pp. 97-108)

    As you weep at your misfortune, I know

    what turned your luck bad,

    blew it away in a passing wind,

    carried it off in the tides,

    all the way down to your heart’s hard core.

    As if it were any of it my work.

    All over again, and yet again

    the reddish waves pounding into your heart,

    the dark green lichens

    growing by the rough rocks

    at the water’s edge.

    Sorrow mine, such as cannot be ended,

    darkening spring night, petals passing on,

    the passing petals fluttering.

    Now, what they might say

    is the sea has changed to a mulberry...

  13. 9. Summer’s Moon
    (pp. 109-118)

    This night of the cool bright moon,

    summer night hazy with clouds,

    the fresh, drenching, red dew falls

    from unbounded, solemn skies.

    Among the highest branches

    young insects, happy spirits,

    creep through the leaves’ cool shadows—

    Ah, such waves of gladness!

    Branching, spreading, ascending,

    even thorn vines are bathed

    in the moon’s oil-like vapor.

    Ah, such beauty exiles sleep!

    As curving grass stems dance

    and the rushes sing their soft song,

    O shape into words the ages

    held in the light sifting down!

    The houses are quiet with sleep

    as the wind from the fields of rice

    leaves a fragrance...

  14. 10. Forsaken
    (pp. 119-130)

    There is no one who would pass through

    this lonely spot, so I settled in,

    thinking I’ll spend one night and go on.

    As a song comes

    from a boat setting out

    there, at the western edge of the sky,

    tears fall from eyes softly closing.

    Our house stays clear before me,

    whether I am dreaming or awake.

    Over that mountain and over the next,

    still the clouds flow on.

    Field flowers


    and scatter.

    Field grasses everywhere

    grown thick and tall,

    while a snake’s shabby covering

    shakes apart in passing gusts.

    See there, how everywhere, everything

    glistens, alive!


  15. 11. Alone
    (pp. 131-138)

    Heaven choked, dark and deep,

    a glimpse of a ghost

    emerging from the depths of a dream.

    Bands of rain lashing down,

    strands in the willow tree black with shadows.

    The sounds of the spell, the incantation bending away.

    Letting her black hair loose,

    dear daughter has started away, wailing loud.

    Insects, shells cast off, squirm and wriggle.

    The sea dark as blood, while at the hole

    in a dead tree the woodpecker

    hammers away, keeps hammering away.

    Someone calling me, the sound

    here and there on the red hill

    the tombstones moving in the moonlight,

    while the song, the...

  16. 12. Loneliness of the Journey
    (pp. 139-142)

    June, dusk, strands of rain,

    like the bones of a corpse wrapped up,

    carried floating, sinking, soaking on a coffin plank, the wayfarer

    without destination, still at this red door.

    The sea that I long for even today,

    the thought of seeing it again overwhelms me with tears.

    Your kindness, the light touch of your hand, like powder,

    surrounds me still, causes me to tremble

    like the aspen leaves, as I think of the sun rising

    over the sea, there where I was born

    and grew up, my home....

  17. 13. Azaleas
    (pp. 143-160)

    If you had been born as a wind!

    In the middle of an empty field by the stream at moonrise

    you would blow loose all the ties of my clothes.

    Or if we had been born as wriggling white bugs!

    We would try dreaming that foolish dream

    of a rainy black night at the foot of some hill.

    If only you had been born as a rock on a cliff

    where the sea comes to its end,

    the two of us would embrace and tumble in.

    Let my body be the spirit of fire

    burning in your heart the night...

  18. 14. Lighting the Flower Lamp at Night
    (pp. 161-172)

    Night. Lighting the flower lamp, might meet in the deep back room.

    Still too young to know, all they think,

    Mind’s bright as the sun and the moon, up to anything.

    But no, love is not just once or twice, though they do not know it yet.

    Night. Lighting the flower lamp, meeting beneath the dimly lighted window.

    A body that still doesn’t know the way ahead, what’s to come, they all think,

    Mind’s as firm as bamboo or pine, up to anything.

    But no, life is a thing of frequent tears, though they do not know it yet.


  19. 15. Golden Meadow
    (pp. 173-180)



    golden meadow:

    Deep, deep in the mountains burns a fire,

    the golden meadow round my love’s tomb.

    Spring has come, spring’s light has come,

    even to the tips of the willow’s threadlike branches.

    Spring’s light has come, the day of spring has come

    deep, deep in the mountains to the golden meadow.

    Day darkens. In the rising moon

    white waters flowing ceaselessly,

    golden sands sparkling . . .

    Carried away on the young mule, O my husband!

    Here, the river village,

    village where I am left to live alone.

    As late spring is past, I too,

    even I...

  20. 16. Rooster Cock-a-Doodle-Doo
    (pp. 181-184)

    Cock-a-Doodle-Doo, the rooster crows,

    but my arms embraced nobody at all.

    A long night filled with wrenching worries;

    dreams broken open, eyes tight shut but sleep will not return.

    Above, the grass-green hill on Misty Isle,

    above the Taedong River,

    last night moored at Namp’o.

    Get up, turn, lie back down in the boat,

    shutting the eyes tight but still the longing comes.

    No matter how you look for it,

    the red lamp light is so faint.

    Close the eyes, a white sandy plain appears

    as the mist rising over the sand vanishes above the waters.

    The sun rises over...

    (pp. 185-200)
    Kim Ŏk

    Sowŏl is gone, so whatever I may say here can be nothing more than the memories of a time that is now past. He was a poet who stood at the height of his youthful powers, one who had shown great talent, and yet like a whirlwind in the depths of night, a dark fate has plucked him away. This is why I feel such sorrow at the loss of Mr. Kim Chŏngsik, a poet of great promise.

    No one will deny that it is human nature to love life and to abhor death. How much greater must our sorrow...