Beside a Chrysanthemum by Seo Jung-ju

Translated by Chae-Pyong Song

Photography by Hye Hyon

Beside a Chrysanthemum by Seo Jung-ju

to make a Chrysanthemum bloom,
the owl must have cried since spring.

to make a Chrysanthemum bloom,
the thunder must have cried in the dark clouds.

Oh, Chrysanthemum, looking like my elder sister,
who stands in front of her mirror
after a long journey through the back alleys of her youth,
her heart tightened by her longings and regrets.

to make your yellow petals bloom
the first frost must have fallen last night.
I could not sleep.

국화 옆에서/ 서정주

한 송이의 국화꽃을 피우기 위해
봄부터 소쩍새는
그렇게 울었나 보다.

한 송이의 국화꽃을 피우기 위해
천둥은 먹구름 속에서
또 그렇게 울었나 보다.

그립고 아쉬움에 가슴 조이던
머언 먼 젊음의 뒤안길에서
인제는 돌아와 거울 앞에 선
내 누님같이 생긴 꽃이여

노오란 내 꽃잎이 피려고
간밤엔 무서리가 저리 내리고
내게는 잠도 오지 않았나 보다.

(Darcy Brandel read an earlier version of this translation.)

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.

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