“Lunar Eclipse,” by Kang Yeon-ho
For a long time I wandered about.
Searching for you—
who was not to be found anywhere in the world—
this blistered life grew dark, as if it were the end.
I cared nothing about who had hidden you away,
and over the long-extended days, only lamentation
Always binding up my wounds alone,
the sobbing that follows me ceaselessly
I thought to be the sound of my own weeping.
How was I supposed to have known?
The thing that concealed you was my own shadow.
You had always been behind me, weeping.
Kang Yeon-ho was born in 1962 in Daejeon, South Chung-jeong Province. He attended Goryeo University and is currently a professor in the Korean Language and Literature Department at Won Gwang University. In addition to publishing three collections of poetry, he has been the recipient of several literary awards.
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This template is not ideal for posting poetry: one of the line breaks is messed up because the column is too narrow. Alas.
I’ve tried and failed to translate Korean poetry on and off for several years now. At this point, I think Chinese poetry, classical or modern, would be easier in some ways than Korean. Nonetheless, there are some poems that I love so much, I can’t help but try; loving the poems means, of course, that when the translation fails, I feel even worse. I’m reminded of something Bill Porter (Red Pine) said in an interview about his translations of Cold Mountain’s poems: “I didn’t realize then that when you translate a poem, you have to write a poem.” Bearing that in mind, please view the shortcomings of the translation as the fault of the translator, and if anyone who can read the Korean is checking in, suggestions are very, very welcome.
I don’t subscribe to the notion that everything in the world can be tortured into falling under the rubric of Buddhist thought or practice. “Lunar Eclipse” is a love poem; the image above, of the temple’s oldest bell’s cast of Kwan Seum Bosal. I thought to yoke the image with this poem when one of my sisters commented that this particular Kwan Seum Bosal seems to be weeping. Although other resonant words and images emerged after I put the two together, I didn’t read “Lunar Eclipse” from a religious standpoint.
A sister of mine gave me an anthology of poems, Poems I Want to Copy Into My Notebook by An Do-hyeon, as a thank-you for helping her out last year. Of the poems in the collection, she singled out “Lunar Eclipse” as a must-read, and that’s how I met this poem.
오랜 세월 헤매 다녔지요
세상 어디에도 보이지 않는 그대를 찾아
부르튼 생애가 그믐인 듯 저믈었지요
누가 그대 가려 놓았는지 야속해서
허구한 날 투정만 늘었답니다
상처는 늘 혼자 처매어야 했기에
끊임없이 따라다니는 흐느낌
내가 우는 울음인 줄 알았구요
어찌 짐작이나 했겠어요
그대 가린 건 바로 내 그림자였다니요
그대 언제나 내 뒤에서 울고 있었다니요
White birds over the gray river.
Scarlet flowers on the green hills.
I watch the spring go by and wonder
If I shall ever return home.
(trns. Kenneth Rexroth)
It’s National Poetry Month in the US!
Over the next month, likely on Tuesdays (our “rest day” here at school), I’m going to try and get pictures and poems up. The goal is four posts; the poetry in question, translated Korean poems, mostly modern at this point. The pictures are proving somewhat elusive, since technically I’m not the camera-sunim any more and getting the shots of folks doing their regular old business around the temple is hard when you’re not supposed to have a camera.
The plum tree has blossomed, and although there are plenty of odes to the plum in Asian poetry, Tu Fu’s plaintive response to the effervescence of the season is echoed in my own feelings as this season comes forth in a far land. I never saw a plum blossom before coming to seminary, and I still remember how, our first year, it bloomed slowly in a bitter cold and occasional spring rains, white sprays on black branches.