Gazing at Mudeung Mountain by Seo Jung-ju

Translated by Chae-Pyong Song and Anne Rashid

Painted by Kang Jang-won (Mudeung Mountain in Gwangju, Korea)

Gazing at Mudeung Mountain by Seo Jeong-ju

Poverty is no more than tattered rags.
Can it cloak our inborn flesh, our natural heart
like the summer mountain
that stands baring its dark green back to the dazzling sun?

As the green mountain tends to orchids under its knees,
all we can do is nurture our offspring.

Husbands and wives,
as you meet the afternoon
when life retreats and gets swept up in rough waves,
once in a while sit down,
once in a while lie next to each other.

Wives, gaze silently at your husbands.
Husbands, touch also your wives’ foreheads

Even when we lie in the pit of a thorn bush,
we should always remember that we are just gems, buried alone,
thickly covered with green moss.

무등을보며/ 서정주

가난이야 한낱 남루(襤褸)에 지나지 않는다.
저 눈부신 햇빛 속에 갈매빛의 등성이를 드러내고 서 있는 여름 산 같은
우리들의 타고난 살결, 타고난 마음씨까지야 다 가릴 수

청산이 그 무릎 아래 지란(芝蘭)을 기르듯
우리는 우리 새끼들을 기를 수밖에 없다.

목숨이 가다 가다 농울쳐 휘어드는
오후의 때가 오거든
내외들이여 그대들도
더러는 앉고
더러는 차라리 그 곁에 누워라.

지어미는 지애비를 물끄러미 우러러보고
지아비는 지어미의 이마라도 짚어라.

어느 가시덤불 쑥구렁에 놓일지라도
우리는 늘 옥돌같이 호젓이 묻혔다고 생각할 일이요
청태(靑苔)라도 자욱이 끼일 일인 것이다.

Seo Jeong-ju (1915 – 2000) was born in Gochang, Jeollabuk-do. He is considered the founding father of modern Korean poetry. Under the pen name Midang, he published at least 15 collections of poetry. He taught Korean literature at Chosun University, among others. He was also nominated five times for the Nobel Prize in literature. His grandmother’s stories and his interest in Buddhism had a strong influence upon his writing. His works have been translated into a number of languages, including English, French, Spanish and German.

NB: Read Moon Byung-ran’s “Poverty” as a pair:

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