Korean Poetry in Translation

          Hyangga  (Silla c.668-935)
          Goryeo Gayo  (Goryeo c.918-1392)
          Sijo and Sosal Sijo  (Josen c.1392-1910)

          Kim Sowôl   (b.1902)
          Pak Tu-jin  (b.1916)

The poems on this page, translated by David R. McCann, Peter H. Lee, Jaihiun Kim, Kevin O'Rourke,  and Sammy E. Solberg are from the following sources:

The Silence of Love - Twentieth Century Korean Poetry, Edited by Peter H. Lee. 1980 - The University Press of Hawaii, Honolulu. This book is currently in print and can be purchased through amazon.com.
A Lamp Burns Low - 101 poems by Sowol Kim - Selected and Translated by Jaihiun Joyce Kim. 1977 - Seongji-Sa Publishing Company, Seoul Korea. This book is currently out of print but you might find copies online at Alibris where I purchased my copy, or at other online stores specializing in rare or out of print books.
The Columbia Anthology of Traditional Korean Poetry - Edited by Peter H. Lee, 2002 Columbia University Press. This book is currently in print and may also be purchased through amazon.com.
The Book of Korean Shijo - Translated and edited by Kevin O'Rourke. This book is currently in print and available through amazon.com.

Classical Korean Poetry

Hyangga - from the Unified Silla Dynasty (c. 668-935)
"The term "hyangga" (native songs) designates Korean songs as opposed to poetry written in classical Chinese (si). The genre specifically covers the extant twenty-five songs dating from Silla and early Koryo, transcribed in the hyangch'al orthographic system, in which Chinese graphs are used phonetically and semantically to represent the sounds of Old Korean." - Peter H. Lee from the introduction to Hyangga in The Columbia Anthology of Traditional Korean Poetry.

Master Wôlmyông (c. 742-765)

Requiem for the Dead Sister

On the hard road of life and death
That is near our land,
You went, afraid,
Without words.

We know not where we go
Leaves blown, scattered,
Though fallen from the same tree,
By the first winds of autumn.

Ah, I will polish the path
Until I meet you in the Pure Land.

Master Ch'undam (c. 742-765)

Ode to Knight Kip'a

The moon that pushes her way
Through the thickets of clouds,
Is she not pursuing
The white clouds?

Knight Kip'a once stood by the water
Reflecting his face in the Iro.
Henceforth I shall seek and gather
The depth of his mind among pebbles.

Knight, you are the towering pine
That scorns frost, ignores snow.

Koryô Songs (The Goryeo Gayo) - from the Koryo (Goryeo) Dynasty (c. 918-1392)
"Koryô songs (sogyo) are characterized by a recurrent refrain that reflects their folk and musical origins and their oral transmission. The were performed and transmitted orally until the sixteenth century when music books such as Notations for Korean Music in Contemporary Use (Siyong hyangak po) - the first systematic musical notation, providing both written music and written words - recorded them in the Korean alphabet." - Peter H. Lee from the introduction to Hyangga in The Columbia Anthology of Traditional Korean Poetry.

stanzas from Song of the Gong and Chimes

Were the pearls to fall on the rock,
Were the pearls to fall on the rock,
Would the thread be broken?

If I parted from you for a thousand years,
If I parted from you for a thousand years,
Would my heart be changed?

stanzas from Song of the Green Mountain

Let's live, let's live,
Let's live on the green mountain!
With wild grapes and thyme,
Let's live on the green mountain!
Yalli yalli yallasyông yallari yalla

Cry, cry, birds,
Cry after you wake.
I've more sorrow than you
And cry afer I wake.
Yalli yalli yallasyông yallari yalla

stanzas from Ode to the Seasons

In October au
I'm like a sliced berry.
Once the branch is broken,
Who will cherish it?
Au tongdong tari

In a November night au
I lie on a dirt floor
With only a sheet to cover me.
O lonely life, night without you.
Au tongdong tari

In December I am like au
Chopsticks carved from pepperwood
Placed neatly before you:
An unknown guest holds them.
Au tongdong tari

Sijo and Sasol Sijo - from the Josen (Chosen) Dynasty (c. 1392 - 1910)
"Sijo is a generic term designating a three-line lyric song (translation uses six of more lines) whose tune was standardized in the eighteenth century so that it could be sung to a uniform musical setting. Dating from the fifteenth century, the sijo was the most popular, elastic , and mnemonic of Korean poetic forms. The sijo was sung and transmitted orally and was not written down until the early eighteenth century." - Peter H. Lee from the introduction to Sijo in The Columbia Anthology of Traditional Korean Poetry. 

Hwang Chini (c. 1506-1544) (sijo)

I will break the back
          of this long winter night,
folding it double,
          cold beneath my spring quilt,
that I may draw out
          the night, should my love return.

Prince Inp'yong (1622-1658) (sijo)

Don't mock a pine
          twisted and bent by the winds.
Flowers in the spring wind,
          can they keep their brilliance?
When wind blows and snow whirls,
          you will call for me.

Yi Chongbo (1693-1766)  (sasol sijo)

May my love become an alder tree
  of Kumsong in Hoeyang, and
  I an arrowroot vine in
  the third month or fourth:
Like a spider's web around a butterfly,
  the vine goes round the tree,
  tightly this way, tightly that,
  wrongly loosened, properly wound,
  bound, then loosened from down below
  all the way to the top,
  tighty winding round and round
  without a single gap, and
  unchanging, day and night,
  it's coiled around, twisting.
Though, in the heart of winter,
  we bear wind, rain, snow, and frost,
  could we ever be apart?

Modern Korean Poerty

Kim Sowôl   Born September 7, 1902  in Kwaksan, North P'yongan Province. Died December 24, 1935.

"Kim Sowol is the most widely know and popular of twentieth-century Korean poets. The melancholy tone of his poems, most of which were published before he was twenty-five, and his use of traditional, "folksong-style" thematic and metrical elements combine to express poignantly a view of life that is felt to be particularly Korean." - David McCann -- from introduction of his translations of Kim Sowol's poems in The Silence of Love.

Azaleas and Long From Now -  translated by David R. McCann (from The Silence of Love)
Invocation and Man Lives Until He Dies - translated by Jaihiun Joyce Kim (from A Lamp Burns Low)


When you leave,
weary of me,
without a word I shall gently let you go.

From Mt. Yak
in Yongbyon
I shall gather armfuls of azaleas
and scatter them on your way.

Step by step
on the flowers placed before you
tread lightly, softly as you go.

When you leave
weary of me,
though I die, I'll not let one tear fall.

Long From Now

Long from now, if you should seek me,
I would tell you I have forgotten.

If you should blame me in your heart,
I would say "Missing you so, I have forgotten."

And if you should still reprove me,
"I couldn't believe you, so I have forgotten."

Unable to forget you today, or yesterday,
but long from now "I have forgotten"


O name shattered to pieces,
O name vanished into the void.
O name without response,
O name I will be calling till death.

You are gone before I have said
What I have carved for you in my heart.
O my love,
O my love.

The sunset burns the western sky.
Even a herd of deer sadly weeps,
Your name I call
Up on a lone hill.

I call till sorrow chokes me.
I call till sorrow chokes me.
But my voice escapes into vast space
Between heaven and earth.

I will be calling your name till death
If I should turn to stone.
O my love,
O my love,

Man Lives Until He Dies

How often do I ponder
Over what I live for?
Innocent of life as it were.
Though the stream
Empties into the ocean
I will not bend
Under the weight of
Workday cares.
Man lives and dies.
Yet I pause to think.
Like ant
Lost in building its shelter
In the warm spring sun,
I will live
Drunk with delight of living.
If man is born to live,
What should I worry?
Man lives till he dies.

Pak Tu-jin   Born March 10, 1916 in Ansong, Kyonggi province.

"He is an accomplished calligrapher and also a connoisseur of stones, the subject of some two hundred poems...Through a skillful use of such elemental imagery as mountain, river, ocean, star, sun and sky, he summons hope for a new life..." Peter H. Lee -- from introduction of his translations of Pak Tu-jin's poems in The Silence of Love.

April,  Message from the crane, and Self-Portrait  -  translated by Peter H. Lee and Sammy E. Solberg (from The Silence of Love)


A dagger pointed at me,
A cup of poison to be drained,
I must embrace you.
I shall open my burning heart to you,
Digest you till my stomach turns,
And walk to heaven at the earth's end.
One sun one moon
The timeless flow of water unending
Till my soles harden into paws,
This naked body will endure your lashes
Till flowers bloom everywhere.

A Message from the Crane

On a deserted islet in the ocean
Stay even if the sun sets, and the moon
Stay even if winds howl and rain

During the day chat with waves
At night repeat the names of stars
Memorize the names of countless stars

Eat grass berries
Wet your throat with dewdrops

Weave your dress with flowers
Inscribe your syllables on the sand

Wait there
On that lonely island

Don't say my words are foolish
The words I send to the winds

Flying over six oceans
I'll bring you back
The joy
Of wings growing from my shoulders
Of my flesh and bones

Till that day that morning


Stones, rolling, strike me,
Sands, wind-swept, sting me,
Waves, swelling, buffet me,

Long long aeons of time,
Sunlight beats me,
Moonlight strikes me,
Dark night knocks me,
Starlight beats me,

Ah, fluttering, falling blossoms,
Flower petals pummel me,
Winds blast me,
A drizzle, shower, sleet pound me,
A fine snow, flaked snow, blizzard,
Hail pound me,

And wrath thrashes me,
Doubt, anxiety,
Solitude batter me,
Despair smashes me,

No, it's love that smites me,
Endless remorse
Endless waiting
Craving flail me,

Conscience, justice, sincerity break me,
Truth, peace,
Freedom break me,
My own people break me,

Timeless beauty
Art break me,

Jesus of Nazareth,
Lord Christ and Father,
Thy Word breaks me.

* * * * *