The Spring of Jiri Mountain by Koh Jung-hee

Translated by Chae-Pyong Song and Anne Rashid

Jiri Mountain; photography by Ha Sung-mok


The Spring of Jiri Mountain
Part I: A Letter Written at the Snake Valley

Passing by the Sumjin River bend,
I have seen a light rising, flashing
over the southwest wind, lying down at the reed field.
The tail of the light follows me,
exposing the damp loneliness
that flows between my ribs,
bursting a single blossom of mountain magnolia.
This cool scent that coils around my whole body,
hung on the mountaintop of the Snake Valley.
May’s splendid sunlight sheds a long light
through the verdant green,
ruffling its sorrowful feathers,
opening a way to get to you.
You who stand upon the faraway ridge,
you who cross over the valley with deafening thunder–
when I climb the ravine, following you who are ahead of me,
the sticky darkness that I couldn’t shed for thirty years
is washed away clean by the grand rapids;
capillary vessels whose six thousand knots are untied
overflow with spring water;
from between heated flesh and bones
the laughing sound of fully blooming violets
transforms into you, the beautiful,
and climbs over the mountain,
ascending to heaven
like cloud, like wind.

(Originally published in The Gwangju News, August, 2011)

Koh Jung-hee (1948 – 1991) was born in Haenam, Jeollanam-do, and studied at Hanshin University. A passionate feminist, she often offered sharp criticism on modern Korean society, whether it was political oppression or gender inequality. In June, 1991, she died, swept up by a torrential rain, while climbing up the Snake Valley of Jiri Mountain, a mountain she loved a great deal and wrote about often. Known for resistance poetry, particularly based upon the Gwangju Uprising, as well as for lyric poems, she derived many of her poetic inspirations from Gwangju and Jeolla-do (often known as Nam-do). In her lifetime she published at least ten collections of poetry and received the Korean Literature Award in 1983.

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